The main campus of Penn State University could one day be situated within minutes of a casino. The public will weigh in next month on the matter.
PSU alum for former university trustee Ira Lubert was the winner of Pennsylvania’s fifth and final Category 4 mini-casino license auction, which was held last September. The mini-casino licenses were authorized under the state’s 2017 gaming expansion package.
The Pennsylvania businessman controls a three percent ownership stake in Rivers Casino Pittsburgh.
Lubert won the mini-casino auction with a $10 million offer. He later partnered with the newly formed Bally’s Corporation in developing plans to transform the former Macy’s department store at the Nittany Mall into a gaming venue.
But with Penn State, Pennsylvania’s largest university, just miles away from the proposed casino, there’s expected to be plenty of opposition to Bally’s and Lubert’s plans. Citizens’ voices will be heard on August 16, when the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board holds a public input hearing on the project.
The state gaming agency is providing a “hybrid” hearing that will allow individuals to present oral testimony in person or by online submission. The meeting is scheduled for 4 pm at The Penn Stater Conference Hotel.
Local Officials Support Casino
While some parents and others might not find placing a casino less than four miles from the Penn State campus ideal, area officials largely endorse the project.
Bally’s and Lubert want to invest $120 million, inclusive of the $10 million bidding fee, to renovate the former Macy’s space into a casino with as many as 750 slot machines, 30 table games, a restaurant, entertainment space, and sportsbook.
College Township contracted a consulting firm in Philadelphia to review the potential impact of the casino. The five-page report concluded that the gaming project would overall have a “negligible” impact on the township’s traffic, water and sewer infrastructure, tourism, and police and first responder services.
As for public safety, the review concluded that State College Police would receive an additional six calls per month with a casino operational at the Nittany Mall. Fire calls would not be expected to increase whatsoever.
One concern is for emergency medical services. The review concluded that the Centre County LifeLink EMS “could be stretched” once Penn State’s main campus returns to full capacity this fall. Beaver Stadium welcomes more than 100,000 fans on Saturdays for college football games.
Good for Mall
The Lubert and Bally’s casino plan is one of several mini-casinos in Pennsylvania targeting vacant mall space. Hollywood Casino York is set to open inside a former Sears store next month at the York Galleria Mall, and Live! Casino Pittsburgh opened last November inside a former Bon-Ton at the Westmoreland Mall.
[The casino] represents a good opportunity for the Nittany Mall and the Nittany Mall area to redevelop, as many of us have hoped it would have the opportunity to do,” said College Township Manager Adam Brumbaugh. “From that standpoint, I think that would be a good thing.”
Once a bustling shopping center, the Nittany Mall has, like so many other malls, lost its major anchor tenants in recent years. Along with Macy’s, which closed in March of 2020, JCPenny closed in 2015, and Sears shuttered in 2018.
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