Nemacolin casino plan decried, praised

Some think it would harm other casinos

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In Fayette County where jobs always seem harder to come by, residents, politicians and business officials are ready to welcome a proposed small-scale casino at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort.

In Washington County? Not so much.

That's the takeaway from Wednesday's public input hearing at the Wharton municipal building, two miles from where the casino would be built. Nemacolin and three other organizations statewide are competing for one available casino license that will be awarded by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, which heard Wednesday's testimony.

Washington County hotel owners, business boosters and tourism promoters all worried a 600-slot, 28-table game casino built along Route 40 in Fayette County would siphon away gamblers, revenue and jobs from Washington County and its own Meadows Racetrack & Casino.

The Nemacolin casino -- to be called Lady Luck and managed by Isle of Capri Casinos -- "would only dilute the successes that have already been achieved" at The Meadows, said J.R. Shaw, executive director of the Washington County Tourism Promotion Agency.

Bill Paulos, head of The Meadows casino property owner Cannery Casino Resorts, said, "Southwestern Pennsylvania is already well-served by its existing casinos," and intimated that Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, which has already had to refinance its debt and has seen its credit rating downgraded, could suffer further if a Nemacolin casino were built some 50 miles away as the crow flies, 61 miles by car.

But representatives from Nemacolin and Isle of Capri said the notion that Nemacolin would steal a big part of The Meadows' business had little basis in fact. The resort estimated that only 3 percent of its audience would represent gamblers "cannibalized" from other regional casinos.

"Our competition is regional and national," not local, said Chris Plummer, general manager at Nemacolin Woodlands.

Last year, Nemacolin drew guests from 44 states and eight countries.

Nemacolin officials also said their particular patch of southwestern Pennsylvania was not "oversaturated" with gaming options, and noted the three other resort casino applicants -- one near Gettysburg, one near Harrisburg and one in the Poconos -- would also be relatively close to existing Pennsylvania casinos.

Two state lawmakers -- Sen. Richard Kasunic, D-Dunbar, and Rep. Tim Mahoney, D-South Union -- told the gaming board that granting the license to Nemacolin would best fulfill the "legislative intent" of the original gaming law and the provision that allowed for two resort casinos.

That provision, they said, was meant to create complementary amenities at an existing resort -- it was not meant to provide for "a casino, around which a resort would be built," said Mr. Kasunic.

Both said the casino could create up to 400 on-site jobs, plus extra hospitality jobs at the resort, as well as 120 temporary construction jobs as the resort's Wildside gaming and party center is remodeled and turned into a 71,000-square-foot casino.

One man suggested a compromise of sorts between The Meadows and Nemacolin.

Kim Hankins, head of The Meadows Standardbred Owners Association, said that if Nemacolin ultimately wins a resort casino license, it should be required to have TVs dedicated to horse-race simulcasting so the slots play at Nemacolin doesn't substantially reduce racetrack wagering, a significant portion of which benefits jockeys, trainers and groomers in the state.

For the final Category 3 slots license, Nemacolin is competing against the proposed Mason-Dixon Resort & Casino south of Gettysburg, a resort hotel in the Poconos and Penn Harris gaming, which wants to convert a Holiday Inn near Harrisburg into a resort casino.

Hearings will continue on the issue.


Bill Toland: btoland@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2625.


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