New Castle News


March 12, 2014

Our Opinion: Public to get chance to comment on local project

NEW CASTLE — A long-anticipated public hearing is finally scheduled for Lawrence County’s proposed casino.

The May 8 hearing at the Mahoning Township Community Center in Hillsville will give citizens the opportunity to comment on the planned Lawrence Downs Casino. An accompanying harness racing track for the project already has been approved.

However, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board still must give its nod to the casino. And no track will be built without approval of the casino portion.

We presume that public comments at the May hearing will be overwhelmingly in support of the project. This proposal has been kicked around for years, with no organized opposition surfacing.

To the contrary, local officials have touted it as a major economic initiative for the community that will mean jobs and local revenue directed toward economic development efforts.

Yet observers can’t help but wonder about how the face of casino gambling has changed since this project was first proposed more than a decade ago. It has been a strange and frustrating process.

The big change of course, is the dramatic expansion of casino gambling in Pennsylvania, Ohio and other states. No surprise there; gambling has become a means of generating revenue for states that avoids raising taxes.

But the growth of casinos has the effect of diluting the market. And rather than becoming destinations, casinos are more likely to draw people who live near them.

Of particular interest here is a track and casino now under construction near Austintown, Ohio. It will be open and in operation well before anything happens on this side of the border.

Supporters of the Lawrence County project argue it will be a better draw because it will offer table games that Ohio will not allow at Austintown. But is that a permanent situation or one subject to change as the expansion of gambling goes on?

Meanwhile, we can’t help but notice that Pennsylvania’s casinos in recent months have experienced revenue drops. Supposedly this is being attributed to bad winter weather that deterred gamblers. But gambling opportunities in other states may be playing a role as well.

It’s also possible that once the novelty wears off, some would-be gamblers lose interest.

These factors create a measure of uncertainty regarding the future of casino gambling, both in Lawrence County and elsewhere. All things being equal, the gambling revenue directed toward local municipalities in Pennsylvania add desirability to the Lawrence County project. The reality, however, is that the financial benefits here will not be what once were envisioned.

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