Shippensburg, S. Middleton townships possible sites for casino

FRONT_VTS_Casino_Map
The site for a proposed mini casino within the encircled area is still being determined. A location must be selected by Aug. 27, or else Greenwood Gaming risks forfeiting the license they bid on in February.

South Middleton and Shippensburg townships are possibly still in the running for the proposed Category 4 Casino, or mini casino, in the area.

Representatives of Parx Casino, which is owned and operated by Greenwood Racing and Entertainment Inc., met with township officials in June. Parx representatives may make a public presentation to South Middleton Board of Supervisors as early as the end of July, South Middleton Township Manager Corey Adams said.

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A Shippensburg Area Development Corp. (SADCO) representative gave a drive-through tour of Shippensburg Township to Parx representatives in early June to showcase seven possible sites in the Township, SADCO President Mickey Nye confirmed.

The Pennsylvania General Assembly approved a new gambling bill in October, which allowed 10 new mini casino licenses to be awarded through a series of auctions. Greenwood was the highest bidder in a Feb. 22 Category 4 auction. Greenwood chose to focus on a municipality or commercial entity within a 15-mile radius of South Newton Township to build.

Their ideal spot is an abandoned facility that they could move into immediately, Nye said, and Parx is seeking a site with land capacity, a highway occupancy permit, the proper zoning and the ease of accessibility.

Parx has a deadline of Aug. 27 — as a formal application for the Category 4 Slot Machine license must be submitted within 6 months of paying off its winning bid of $8.1 million, or else Parx would need to request a two-month extension, Doug Harbach, communications director of the PA Gaming Control Board, said. The board has not received a petition for an extension from Greenwood at this time, Harbach said, and thus could lose their license if they do not select a spot by the August deadline.

Carrie Minelli, director of advertising and public relations at Parx Casino, did not respond to a phone call and an email seeking comment prior to Wednesday’s deadline.

South Middleton

Adams said, “it is the intention” of Parx Casino officials to make a public presentation to the South Middleton Township Board of Supervisors in late July or early August as the supervisors await an official request from Parx to reconsider an opt-out resolution on a Category 4 casino, which supervisors approved in December. This opt-out resolution was a decision to prohibit the siting of the casino within the municipality, and the resolution needed to be filed by Dec. 31 under Act 42 of the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Many municipalities decided to opt out, but could choose to opt back in at a later date.

South Middleton Township became a possible landing site after representatives of Greenwood held a listening session with the Township Board of Supervisors, the district’s school board and Jonathan Bowser, CEO of Cumberland Area Economic Development Corp. in May, so they could ask questions about the economic impact of locating a Category 4 casino. Bowser said he has not been a part of any other listening sessions given by Parx representatives to any other municipality officials and/or school boards beside South Middleton Township. The listening session “was pretty much the same presentation that they gave to Carlisle Borough.”

Greenwood Gaming CEO Anthony Ricci made a public presentation discussing the impacts of a casino to Carlisle Borough Council — a municipality, which was considered a possible option — and in a May 10 meeting, Mayor Tim Scott announced that a majority of council was not in favor of moving forward with any casino.

Bowser also added: “(The municipalities) have been really good at being closed on what they are looking to do,” he said.

Parx representatives are “still gauging (the municipality’s) level of interest,” Adams said. The South Middleton Township supervisors are still in communication with the school board, he added.

Two individuals, who spoke during the public comment period at the South Middleton meeting on June 14, spoke in favor of the township allowing for a casino.

Adams also said supervisors met with economic development representatives from Parx, “no people from the actual casino,” the morning of June 27 when they expressed this desire to make a public presentation.

Shippensburg Township

Parx never reached out to Shippensburg Township Supervisors directly — but Parx representatives and Nye took a drive-through tour of the Shippensburg area, looking at the possible sites where a casino could be constructed in Shippensburg Township on June 6. Two of the sites were declared too small.

Nye initially reached out to Parx regarding SADCO’s interest in casino construction. He described the touring as “really positive” and the Parx representatives said that “they liked what they saw and needed some time to reflect.” He added that he got the feeling they were trying to be discreet.

“I would enjoy if (the casino) came to Shippensburg as I feel it’s good for job opportunity and tax revenue,” Nye said. “I felt I made Shippensburg look really good; I gave them the opportunity to meet with township supervisors, which they seemed to be appreciative of.”

The Parx representatives asked how Nye felt like people in Shippensburg would react to a casino, and he said he thought they would be in favor of the proposal.

Nye highlighted the area on Walnut Bottom Road, off of Exit 29, behind the incoming distribution warehouse, which is zoned for infrastructure, like a convenience store, hotel — or casino — on the property, Shippensburg Township Supervisor Steve Oldt said. The plot has around 100 acres of land and includes a 10-acre outparcel. When a driver comes off of Exit 29 from I-81, the plot is on the right, across from the Ford garage on the north side of Walnut Bottom Road. The two parties toured other areas in Shippensburg Township, looking at a piece of property across from Walmart and a few sites across from Lowe’s, among some others.

Nye has not heard anything from the Parx representatives since the tour and will be reaching out to them soon to follow up.

Tax revenue

In February, Shippensburg Township and I-81’s Exit 29 interchange was named “a dark horse in this selection process” to land the contract, according to PennLive’s Charles Thompson. Shippensburg Township Supervisors are in favor of the Category 4 Casino, according to Oldt, noting the municipality did not opt out like other municipalities who were potentially opposed to the addition of a casino.

“We are interested in any development in Shippensburg Township, especially a casino, because it raises our tax base,” Oldt said. “If somebody buys that (land), puts a casino there and spends a lot of money for a casino license, the school district will love us, Cumberland County will love us — because we are bringing in tax money.”

As long as the casino adheres to current township ordinances and is not in forbidden use, Shippensburg Township Supervisors would not have any decisions to make, other than offering their opinion.

“It’s a windfall being in a great location personally, and I think it would do well there,” Oldt said.

Oldt added that in the most recent US census in 2010, Shippensburg Township has an estimated population of 5,500, but a majority of that number is Shippensburg University students living off campus that don’t pay real estate taxes and don’t add to the township revenue stream, Oldt said. He estimated that 3,500 students were counted in the US census population estimate of Shippensburg Township. All of the university is located in Shippensburg Township, and this is Commonwealth of Pennsylvania land because it is a state university and is therefore not taxable, he explained.

School budget deficit

The South Middleton school board will not make any decisions until they see what the municipality decides.

“We are going to watch and see what (the municipality) does,” said Michael Berk, president of South Middleton School Board. “The board will review and see what the proposal is.”

The school board was faced with the challenge of overcoming a $1.4 million deficit in this upcoming year’s budget, resulting in the application for exceptions to increase taxes above the maximum allowed by state law. With the South Middleton School District facing a rough financial stretch, one town official in Cumberland County said they feel the timing seems right for South Middleton Township to alleviate the taxpayer burden.

Casino benefits

Each Category 4 casino may operate between 300 and 750 slot machines and 30 table games, according to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

Two percent of the slot machine gross revenue goes toward tax revenue for the municipality while another 2 percent is put toward grants through the CFA to the county that hosts the Category 4 casino. One percent of table game gross revenue goes toward tax revenue for the municipality, and 1 percent is put toward grants through the CFA to the county that hosts the Category 4 casino. Ricci stated in the public meeting before Carlisle Borough Council that $1 million was the estimated payout to both the municipality and county, and 250 jobs could be created from the casino’s operations and 350 jobs from the construction of the casino. The municipality revenue “can be used by the municipality with few restrictions,” according to Harbach. He said this could be put toward upgrading roads, additional tax relief, upgrades to buildings and emergency services, among others.

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board reported July 3 that slot machine revenue increased 0.7 percent during the 2017-18 state fiscal year compared to the previous fiscal year, which the board notes does not reflect total gaming revenue. Total gaming revenue includes revenue from table games.

Other municipalities

Chambersburg Borough is not a possibility because the license was approved for a geographic area that does not include the borough.

In December 2017, Chambersburg Borough Council failed to pass a resolution opposing the placement of a mini casino inside the borough.

Earlier this year, council adopted revised zoning ordinances, which “among other things, would have allowed a mini casino only within 150 feet of Interstate 81, the borough’s eastern boundary,” Jeffrey Stonehill, borough manager, wrote in an email to The News-Chronicle.

Therefore any location chosen by Greenwood Gaming might be close to, but not directly in Chambersburg Borough. For instance, Chambersburg Mall in Greene Township falls into this category, which is within this 15-mile radius of the selected area by Parx.

“Certainly, any discussion revitalizing the mall and creating economic development in that area seems reasonable,” Todd Burns, Greene Township supervisor, wrote in an email to The News-Chronicle. “The board would generally have no involvement (in the Chambersburg Mall) as long as it meets the zoning requirements.”

Mason Asset Management, owners of the mall, did not respond to an email seeking comment before deadline Wednesday.

Greene Township is a “dry” municipality, which poses a challenge with any casino needing a license to sell alcohol.

Shippensburg Borough Council decided to opt out of the casino agreement in December and has not since changed its mind to consider pursuing a contract with Greenwood.

“If someone approaches us, then we may pursue it,” said Andrea Lage, president of Shippensburg Borough Council.

In December, Borough Solicitor Sam Wiser told council the gaming operators are going to look geographically at what makes the most sense and will then approach the municipality to make a proposal to gain agreement in opting back in.

A Category 4 facility may not be located within 25 miles of another licensed Pennsylvania Casino. The closest casino to the proposed area is the Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course in Grantville.

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