Bally’s Casino near Penn State was approved despite community opposition

Published on: January 25, 2023, 04:04 am.

Last updated: 25 January 2023, 05:16.

Bally’s Casino’s proposal to redevelop the former Macy’s department store in the Nittany Mall cleared a major hurdle Wednesday afternoon. That’s when the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) voted unanimously to approve the $123 million project.

Bally's State College Penn State Cordish Casino
Nittany Mall is less than five miles from Penn State University Park, the main campus of Pennsylvania’s largest university. A Bally’s casino has been cleared by gambling regulators to come to the largely vacant shopping complex. (Image: Mason Asset Management)

The decision comes more than two years and four months after Ira Lubert, who owns a 3 percent stake in Rivers Casino Pittsburgh, won the state’s September 2020 bid for a Category 4 satellite casino. He chose College Township, and PGCB has issued the required slot license to the company.

Lubert partnered with Rhode Island-based Bally’s shortly after securing the development opportunity. The PGCB voted unanimously in favor of the gaming license submitted by SC Gaming OpCo, LLC, the entity controlled by Bally’s and Lubert.

Casino.org continues to send hundreds of comments against Bally’s plan. But College Township did not withdraw its bid to be a Category 4 host site before the PGCB’s August 2019 deadline. As such, the PGCB did not have the authority to deny Bally’s plan based solely on the recent public outcry.

Cordish’s complaint was dismissed

The gaming board voted in favor of Bally’s plan, despite allegations from a rival casino operator that the PGCB had wrongly accepted SC Gaming OpCo’s application in the first place.

Cordish Companies, which was outbid by Lubert during the September 2020 auction, said the PGCB violated the state’s Gaming Act by accepting SC Gaming’s application. State law required that only Lubert be allowed to participate, not a consortium with Bally’s.

The Gambling Act requires high bidders to submit their Category 4 license applications within six months of the auction. Cordish argued that since Lubert partnered with Bally’s and hailed the casino operator as a key investor in SC Gaming OpCo, Lubert did not properly file his claim as required by the Gaming Act.

Mr. Lubert did not submit an application for the slot machine license. Instead, it has formed an investment group, divided ownership and controlling interests in that group, submitted an applicant (SC Gaming), and is seeking a license for interests that are substantially different from Mr. Lubert’s.” argued Cordish attorney Mark Aronchick.

The PGCB disagreed with Cordish and instead granted SC Gaming OpCo a category 4 slots licence. The permit allows the company to develop and open a casino in College Township with up to 750 slot machines. The casino can request an initial allocation of 30 table games for an additional fee of $2.5 million. Sports betting can be included for an additional $10 million.

Bally’s told the state today that its State College casino will also offer a stage for live music and events, plus a restaurant serving casual dining and alcoholic beverages. The project is expected to take 12 months to renovate the former department store into a mini-casino.

Community concerns heard

The PGCB said it considered the thousands of letters of opposition to Bally’s casino plan in determining whether to license the project.

The Council conducted a thorough investigation of the application along with gathering public information from citizens, community groups and public officials. This was accomplished through a public input hearing held in College Township on Au. 16, 2021, and receiving written comments until June 12, 2022.” the council explained.

Casino.org has been covering the global gaming industry since 2015. Our January 14 article on the State College casino controversy garnered more than 200 comments — our site’s all-time record — with all but two opposing Bally’s plan .

With Bally’s release of a license to College Township, the chances of stopping game development are greatly extended. Cordish’s final legal recourse is to ask the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to review the PGCB’s decision. Cordish did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether the company would take that step.

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