New Castle News

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May 9, 2014

Gaming board asked to take a chance here

NEW CASTLE — Lawrence County deserves a chance, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board was Thursday.

All seven board members, their staff, hearing officer Linda Lloyd and 200 to 225 others attended the board’s public hearing at the Mahoning Township Community Center.

Forty-five people spoke and Lloyd read one letter. Other letters to be considered as part of the public record will be accepted until July 7. They may be emailed to www.gamingcontrolboard.pa.gov or mailed to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, Box 69060, Harrisburg, Pa. 17106, Attention: Board Secretary.

Much of the testimony was from area residents urging the board to award the state’s final casino license to the proposed Lawrence Downs Casino and Racing Resort. These included elected officials, union representatives and businesspeople who urged the board to give the county the opportunity to create jobs with good wages and see economic development that has been lacking for the past three to four decades.

However, the board also heard from representatives of four western Pennsylvania casinos urging them to withhold the license. They claimed the region has an oversaturation of gaming facilities and competition from neighboring states and within Pennsylvania is reducing casino revenues.

They also heard from Philadelphia-based Endeka Entertainment, which is proposing construction of a racetrack/casino complex off Route 422 at Route 551 in Mahoning Township. The company will be working in partnership with Penn National Gaming, which will manage the operation.

Endeka outlined a multi-phase plan to invest $210 million. Phase I includes a 110,000-square-foot facility with 1,000 slot machines, 36 table games, eight poker tables, dining and entertainment options, a simulcast theater, a one-mile harness racing track and 1,765 parking spaces. The partners estimate the construction phase at 15 to 18 months.

Phase II will expand casino space by 15,000 square feet and add 500 more slot machines.

The plan includes 1,000 construction jobs, more than 600 permanent jobs and the widening of U.S. Route 422.

Several of those opposed to granting the license urged the board to reject the application, saying it relied on taxpayer money to fund the project.

Following the hearing, Lawrence County Commissioner Dan Vogler called those comments a “blatant mischaracterization” of what county officials are proposing.

“There are no taxpayer dollars involved.”

The county commissioners suggested a bond issue to help to fund the proposed project. A $50 million bond would be paid off with the county’s share of anticipated casino revenue, meaning those who buy the notes are taking the gamble.

This unique financing assistance was done to help Endeka meet a May 31, 2013, deadline to satisfy requirements set by the state harness racing commission to retain the racing license.

(Coming Saturday: A closer look at the testimony that was offered and a photo gallery.)

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