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Mount Airy Casino owner wins right to put mini-casino in western Pa., near Ohio

Written by Marc Levy/Associated Press | Feb 8, 2018 9:45 AM
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FILE PHOTO: People gamble at the Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs casino in Wilkes-Barre. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

(Harrisburg) -- The family that owns northeastern Pennsylvania's Mount Airy Casino Resort won the rights Thursday to build a mini-casino on the opposite side of the state along the Ohio border, an area that has tried for years to land a casino project.

Mount Airy, owned by the family of billionaire founder Louis DeNaples, submitted a winning bid Thursday of nearly $21.2 million -- $21,188,888.88 to be exact.

It was the best of three offers in the third mini-casino auction to date, besting bids by Parx Casino in suburban Philadelphia -- controlled by London-based businessman Watche Manoukian -- and the Las Vegas Sands-owned Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem.

In a search for cash to patch up the state's threadbare finances, lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf last year approved a massive expansion of casino gambling that includes auctioning the rights to 10 new mini-casinos.

Thursday's winning bid raises the total from the first three auctions to $112 million. Pennsylvania is the nation's No. 2 state for commercial casino gross revenues, second to Nevada, and is already No. 1 in tax revenue from gambling -- $1.4 billion in the most recent fiscal year.

Mini-casinos can operate up to 750 slot machines and license holders can pay $2.5 million more to operate 30 table games. Bids are limited for now to the owners of Pennsylvania's 11 casino licenses that allow holders to operate up to 5,000 slot machines and 250 table games.

Lawrence County officials had actively sought a suitor for a mini-casino after several investors tried unsuccessfully for years to build a casino and racetrack there. Area officials hope the casino will provide an economic boost.

"Today's a good day for our community," Lawrence County Commissioner Dan Vogler said.

Mount Airy did not specify a specific site where it plans to build. But Vogler said he expected a Lawrence County casino could draw from five surrounding counties -- three in Pennsylvania and two in Ohio -- that, with Lawrence County, have a combined population of 1 million.

The county is bisected by Interstate 376, and the nearest casino is the slot machine-only Hollywood Gaming Mahoning Valley in Ohio, about a half-hour away.

More than an hour to the south is Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh and more than an hour to the north is Presque Isle Downs Casino in suburban Erie.

Pennsylvania-based Penn National Gaming won the first mini-casino license last month, bidding $50.1 million to put one in an area of south-central Pennsylvania that includes the city of York. A Baltimore-based developer that's building a casino in Philadelphia's stadium district won the second license, bidding $40.1 million to put up a casino in Westmoreland County, outside Pittsburgh.
Mount Airy's bid comes after critics say state lawmakers gave it two sweetheart provisions in the gambling bill.

One provision protects much of northeastern Pennsylvania from the construction of a mini-casino that could compete with Mount Airy Casino for gamblers. Another provision effectively forces higher-earning casinos to bail out lower-performing casinos, potentially delivering a $4 million payment to Mount Airy and Presque Isle.

Rival casinos have filed legal challenges that threaten both provisions.
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This story has been corrected to show that the bid was nearly $21.2 million, not $21.9 million.

An earlier story appears below. 

(Harrisburg) -- The owners of the Mount Airy Casino Resort in the Pocono Mountains have won the rights to build a mini-casino in western Pennsylvania, on the Ohio border.

They submitted a winning bid today of $21.9 million to build the facility in Lawrence County.

It was the best of three offers, for the third mini-casino auction to date.

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board is auctioning the rights to 10 new mini-casinos.

They can have 750 slot machines and license holders can pay another $2.5 million to operate 30 table games.

The first two licenses raised $90 million for a state government scrounging for cash, one for a mini-casino in York County and another in Westmoreland County, outside Pittsburgh.

Bids are limited to the state's licensed casino owners, for now.

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