The governor of Pennsylvania signed a far-reaching revenue package into law on Oct 30, 2017, that included expanded gambling in the state. On Jan 10 the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board will open the bidding process to allow 10 of the state’s existing casinos to open so-called mini-casinos. In addition to creating the Category 4 casino licenses, the law will see the state become the fourth in the U.S. to specifically legalize online casinos following Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware.
Pennsylvania lawmakers have wrestled with the issue of expanded gambling as a means to raise revenues in the past. The previous bills have all ultimately failed for various reasons including resistance from current land-based operators opposed to video lottery terminals (VLT) in taverns, and the possibility that online casinos could undercut profits.
In addition to 10 new satellite casinos, the law allows interactive gambling lounges at airports, VLTs at truck stops, and daily fantasy sports competitions. The gambling portion of the revenue package is expected to bring in $100 million in licensing fees alone and an anticipated $230m annually in additional fees and taxes.
Pennsylvania, with a $32 billion annual budget, has struggled to recover from the great recession of 2008. The new plan could see the current $2 billion annual deficit mitigated through new casino revenues and by diverting the state’s ‘Big Tobacco’ settlement funds away from health care for 20 years.
While overall job numbers may look good in PA, middle-wage industries like manufacturing have been replaced by lower-wage industries like healthcare and customer service in the last decade in many areas. One of those locales is Clearfield County where the largest employer is now Dubois Regional Medical Center followed closely by Walmart. The county that once thrived on lumbering and mining now sees RES Coal LLC at #37 and Domtar Paper Company at #49 on a list of top employers compiled by the PA Department of Labor & Industry (PDF).
Many municipalities have opted out of the siting process for new casinos, and others are taking the lead to bring tax dollars and job opportunities to their communities. Clearfield County, where the towns of Clearfield, Dubois, and Philipsburg are located, wants a casino.
According to Josiah Jones, Executive Director at Visit Clearfield County, their region in the heart of the state would make an excellent choice for one of the new casinos. The new Category 4 licenses allow for up to 750 slots and an optional 30 gaming tables. Racetracks and stand-alone casinos like Sands Bethlehem have first shot at the licenses which will be up for bid every two weeks until May 16.
Clearfield bills itself as “Halfway to Everywhere” due to its location 4-5 hours from Detroit, NYC, Philadelphia, and Toronto. Local residents have to travel about 2 hours in any direction to reach a casino now. That would give a gaming venue there a wide market to draw from, and their location places them well beyond the 25 mile limit from existing casinos. The area is located right off Interstate 80 and already has hotel accommodations for about 1,600 people. According to Jones, 28,000 travelers pass the I-80 Clearfield (120) exit daily and a casino there would generate a lot of awareness.
The area is a tourist haven with numerous lakes, rivers, and recreation areas including the Quehanna Wild Area, the largest wild area in the East. Visitors are also drawn to game lands, state forests and parks, several golf courses, and a vibrant arts community.
Not content to rest on their laurels and wait for the industry to come to town, the Clearfield County Recreation and Tourism Authority has already sent information packets to several PA operators in a bid to attract a proper suitor and expand the region’s already bountiful offering to visitors.