Mount Airy’s application for a proposed Category 4 casino in Big Beaver in Beaver County was rejected Wednesday morning during a meeting of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.
The casino bid $24 million for the license in 2018.
David M. Barasch, who serves as chairman of the board, said during the meeting that the Office of Enforcement Council issued a recommendation to the board to reject Mount Airy’s casino application.
“Despite Mount Air exercising reasonable efforts to attempt to secure financing for that project,” Barasch said, “they were unable to do so. Mount Airy will not be able to satisfy Section 13-13’s financial requirements to establish an operational viability of this particular project.”
The board then voted unanimously to reject the application.
Todd Greenburg, who serves as Mount Airy Casino Resort’s chief operating officer and general manager, expressed disappointment and gratitude with the decision.
“We are very disappointed that Mount Airy Casino Resort will not be moving forward with our proposed Category 4 casino in Beaver County,” he said in an emailed statement. “We would like to thank all the wonderful Beaver County residents and stakeholders for their efforts. The Beaver County community has been generous and gracious, and we wish them all the best in their future endeavors.”
Mount Airy did not contest the recommendation for denial, Barasch said, based on the threshold of financial suitability for the Big Beaver project.
The Pocono-based company will forfeit 25 percent, or $5.3 million, of the bid price to the commonwealth, but will keep the remaining 75 percent of the funding.
Lawrence County was one of the hopeful areas for the casino when Mount Airy first looked at the area for a potential site. The Beaver County site was chosen instead. Had a site in Lawrence County be picked, it, too, would have been out of the picture,
Greenburg pointed to competition from other casinos as having a negative impact on Mount Airy.
“Unfortunately, external factors such as increased competition from new casinos and nearby destination resorts had a larger impact on our revenues than originally anticipated,” Greenburg said. “This additional competition combined with other recent developments such as the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s recent ruling on the local share assessment had a negative impact on our ability to procure financing for the Beaver County project.”
State Rep. Chris Sainato said he felt Mount Airy made a miscalculation in choosing the site of the proposed casino.
“When they bid on the mini casino, that was the second one and they bid $24 million,” Sainato said. “They wanted to be close to Pittsburgh. I never thought that was a smart idea. Geographically, they should have focused on the Ohio Valley region.
“I understand they wanted to compete with The Rivers in Pittsburgh. They couldn’t get financing, and it didn’t surprise me. Theoretically, had they focused on Lawrence County they would have had a better shot (at getting financing.) They could have gone where the original racetrack was and it is shovel ready, Shenango Township and New Castle offered incentives.
“They had other options and they didn’t take advantage of those options. That option was Lawrence County.”
Mount Airy won a casino license from the state in 2018 and pinned a location in Hickory Township as its proposed site. However, the casino could selected a site within a 15-mile radius of the pin.
After lobbying from county and municipal officials, the casino selected a site in Big Beaver and not in Lawrence County.
Commissioner Dan Vogler, who has been an advocate for many years of bringing a racetrack and/or casino to the county, said, “We were included in Mount Airy’s circle” in its search for property.
“Regretfully for Western Pennsylvania, it’s an unfortunate decision,” he said.
Vogler said the jobs at the Beaver County casino could have employed people from Lawrence and other nearby counties who would have gone there to work. He believes this was among the first — if not the first — license for a mini-casino that the gaming board has denied.
County and municipal officials had been working since 2003 to attract a horse racing track or a casino to the region.
“No Category 4 casino will be built in the Beaver County area,” Barasch said.
Reporter Debbie Wachter contributed to this story.