Penn State students have returned to the main campus in University Park, Pa., after more than a year of remote classes. Football is back, too, with the Nittany Lions expected to pack Beaver Stadium with more than 100,000 fans this Saturday.
But a topic looming around Happy Valley is one that critics say will result in sad days ahead for many.
The Nittany Mall, just miles off the PSU campus, is being targeted for a casino. Former trustee and Penn State alum Ira Lubert is behind the project. Opponents to the development say gambling will negatively impact the region.
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) has been fielding public comments on the Penn State casino proposal, and the vast majority of the emails to the state regulator oppose the $123 million development. Critics suggest that crime and illegal drug use will increase with a casino in town, as will various addictions. Those opposed also argue that casinos prey on the vulnerable and those who cannot afford to lose money gambling — essentially a tax on the poor.
Lubert won the PGCB’s satellite casino auction round in September 2020 with a $10 million offer. Lubert subsequently teamed with the newly formed Bally’s Corporation to invest another $113 million into transforming the vacant former Macy’s department store at the Nittany Mall into a Bally’s-branded casino.
The blueprint includes a 94,000-square-foot casino with up to 750 slot machines, 30 table games, and sportsbook.
Much Opposition, Some Support
Dan Materna, a concerned resident in Howard, a small borough in Centre County, forwarded Casino.org the latest batch of public comments submitted to the PGCB. Of the 90 emailed opinions, all but a little more than a handful were in opposition.
“The folks in Happy Valley are keeping up the pressure and they continue to voice their opposition. That ‘sure thing’ at the Nittany Mall might not be as certain as some folks had hoped,” Materna told Casino.org.
“Turning the old Macy’s into a casino is an extremely harmful idea for State College,” opined State College resident Jun Luo. “It will damage the reputation of the highly ranked, world-renowned Penn State University, and give a bad impression to prospective students and their parents.”
Sharon Huang, an associate professor at Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology, said college towns and casinos simply don’t mix.
No one wants to see their children go to a casino when they should be in class,” Huang stated. She added that the Nittany Mall’s glory days are long gone, and a casino won’t spur new family-friendly businesses in the shopping complex or surrounding area.
“It is already sad that the Nittany Mall is slowly closing down, but putting in a casino is just adding salt to a bad wound,” Huang continued. “It is not good for Penn State. It is not good for Happy Valley. It is not good for countless families in Pennsylvania, and it should not be good for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”
Backers Flaunt Economic Growth
Though the majority of the public comments hope the PGCB rejects State College as a casino setting, some believe the Bally’s pitch should gain approval.
Dr. Christopher Zorn, also a professor in the College of Information Sciences and Technology, believes a casino will positively benefit the region. Dr. Zorn says he’s lived in the area for 14 years, and plans to stay and continue to raise his 12-year-old son in Centre County.
The research is clear: The likely positive effects — economic, developmental, and cultural — of a casino of this size and type far outweigh the likely negative ones,” Dr. Zorn said to the PGCB.
A consulting firm contracted by College Township concluded that the proposed Bally’s casino at the Nittany Mall would have a “negligible” impact on traffic, water, and sewer infrastructure, tourism, and first responder calls.
The PGCB will further review the public comments at a meeting scheduled for September 15.
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