In Pennsylvania, state officials have met to decide what to do if Endeka Entertainment decides against appealing a summer decision from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board not to award the operator with a Category I casino license.
According to a report from the New Castle News newspaper, the state’s seven-member regulator voted unanimously in July to deny a license application from Endeka Entertainment, which wanted to spend $205 million in order to transform a 250-acre site 52 miles north of Pittsburgh into its Lawrence Downs Casino And Racing Resort complete with a new one-mile harness racing track, three restaurants and a casino offering 1,500 slots and 38 table games.
Under legislation passed in 2004, Pennsylvania officials can assign seven Category I gambling licenses, which tie a casino to a racetrack, along with five stand-alone Category II permits and a pair of resort-hotel Category III licenses.
But, the newspaper reported that Joseph Procacci, the main shareholder of Endeka Entertainment, remains undecided as to whether he intends to file an appeal by a Wednesday deadline, which could leave the eastern state with a spare Category I license.
At the meeting, John Payne, a member of the Pennsylvania House Of Representatives, proposed introducing legislation that would scrap the final Category I license earmarked for Lawrence County and replace it with a Category II permit. The Republican serves as Chairman for the state’s House Gaming Oversight Committee and stated that his plan would get the license earmarked for Lawrence County “back to safe keeping to be reissued.”
“He takes the position that there has been no financing available for the combined harness racing [and] casino project in the past ten years,” Chris Sainato, a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, told the New Castle News. “He believes if the license is withdrawn it could be reissued separately and proposes legislation to do so. He said there is more interest in obtaining a gaming license for a stand-alone casino and that financing for such a license will be readily available.”
As the law now stands, the process to obtain the remaining Category I license would open up if Endeka Entertainment drops out of the running. A new developer could then be selected after two to four years although the process could take longer if there are multiple applicants. Sainato explained that it could take an operator a minimum of one year to acquire a stand-alone casino license.
“John Payne wants this to proceed quickly if Endeka [Entertainment] does not appeal the [Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board’s] rejection,” Sainato told the newspaper. “If it does do appeal, that will hold everything in place and the process will continue to play out. You can’t deny a license if the guy is still alive. They can’t give the license to someone else if it is under appeal.”
However, Joe Thomson, President for the Standardbred Breeders Association Of Pennsylvania has spoken out against Payne’s proposal and proclaimed that it was ill-conceived, would hurt job creation and exclude the agricultural community. This is despite Sainato stating that he could attach an amendment to any future legislation that would give Lawrence County the “first shot” at applying for the Category II license.
“I believe financing for a stand-alone casino can be obtained,” said Sainato. “Payne is saying no one can get financing for a racetrack and that it will be easier to find financing for a stand-alone casino so the licenses should be separated.”
If there is no appeal, Sainato told the newspaper that he believes the orphaned license will continue to draw attention as the state is keen to cash in on the $50 million license fee and the associated economic benefits any development would bring.
“I don’t have much hope that John Payne’s bill to separate the licenses will go through,” said Sainato while noting that both Payne and Democratic counterpoint Nick Kotik will be leaving office in November. “That means they have one month to have the Pennsylvania House Of Representatives pass this bill, have the Pennsylvania Senate pass it and for Governor [Tom] Wolf to sign it into law. If nothing happens in the next few weeks, I don’t think that will happen.”