Nemacolin Woodlands has big plans for casino

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Nemacolin Woodlands Resort's proposal, shown in this artist's rendering, calls for construction of a casino with 500 slot machines inside the resort's former Woodlands World outdoor goods store along Route 40 in Fayette County. The casino will feature an old-fashioned saloon with swinging doors and a wall mural depicting California gold rush digs. Employees will wear Western-style uniforms and a player piano will clang in the background.
By Bill Toland
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

FARMINGTON, Pa. -- Expect a touch of the Old West and the glitter of a gold rush at the casino proposed for Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Fayette County.

And with that glitter, it's hoped, might come a coveted five-star rating, something that has eluded the resort since new ownership took over in the 1980s.

"We want to be a five-star resort," owner Maggie Hardy Magerko said yesterday.

Currently the resort -- with its pricey overnight rooms, world-class golf course, off-road driving paths and top-notch restaurants -- earns a four-diamond rating from the American Automobile Association's travel guide. No Pittsburgh-area restaurant, hotel or resort has a five-star or five-diamond rating.

"That's the absolute goal," said Jeff Nobers, vice president of communications for the resort and for 84 Lumber.

Reviewers from AAA -- or Mobil Travel guide, another ratings publisher -- generally rate the service quality of overnight rooms and restaurants, but in the case of a resort, other amenities can come into play.

A new casino, combined with an updated review for Falling Rock Hotel, which opened in 2004 and was rated for the first time in 2005, could push Nemacolin over the top. The casino "would be a factor potentially considered, but one of many," Mr. Nobers said.

The casino, to be built in the resort's former outdoor goods store on U.S. Route 40, will have an old-fashioned saloon with swinging doors and a wall mural depicting California gold rush digs. Employees will wear Western-style uniforms, as a player piano clangs in the background.

The saloon, a dance floor and a food court will flank a central bank of 500 slot machines.

Nemacolin officials announced the details yesterday at a public hearing convened by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. Nemacolin is trying to secure one of two casino licenses reserved for Pennsylvania resort hotels.

Resort officials are projecting 350 new casino jobs by 2009 and 820,000 visitors annually, or more than 15,000 a week. Some of those would be patrons coming mainly to the casino, but most would be people already visiting Nemacolin to stay the night or play golf.

Several casino decors were considered by Nemacolin, but the Old West theme works best with the existing architecture. The former Woodlands World outdoor store, a scaled-down version of the Cabela's chain, resembles a log cabin on the outside. The 50,000-square-foot store closed this year and its stock was moved to a new location in Uniontown.

If the resort doesn't win a casino license, the building could be retrofitted for any number of uses, but Nemacolin is moving ahead as if the license is in hand. The resort has been searching for a casino director and has narrowed its list to four candidates.

The casino could open within three months of winning a license.

At the three-hour hearing, only one person opposed the casino -- Mark Kovscek of Brownsville First, a community group that was born of a 2003 effort to keep Indian casinos out of Fayette County. Mr. Kovscek said Nemacolin's visitor projections were unrealistic and the casino's projected $30 million revenue stream would rely too heavily on Fayette County gamblers.

But most community members said the casino was a welcome addition to the county with its 7 percent unemployment rate.

Resort casinos may operate up to 500 slot machines, while stand-alone and racetrack casinos can operate 5,000.

The other resort applicant is Seven Springs Mountain Resort, whose public input hearing is scheduled for this morning at the Quality Inn & Conference Center in Somerset.


Exterior of Nemacolin Woodlands Resort's proposed casino shown in this artist's rendering.

Bill Toland can be reached at btoland@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1889.


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