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As Communities Opt Out, Process Begins To Award New Pa. Casino Licenses

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Trying to plug a nearly $2 billion budget hole without raising taxes led the state legislature and the governor to expand gaming in Pennsylvania.

But sensitive to public concerns about too many casinos, lawmakers gave local communities until Dec. 31 to opt out as a casino site.

Many did -- but there are plenty left.

On Wednesday, the first new license will be awarded in Harrisburg.

Pennsylvania is about to nearly double the number of casinos in the state -- with the awarding of 10 licenses for so-called satellite or mini casinos across the Commonwealth.

"We're holding the first auction for the new Category 4 satellite casinos," Doug Harbach, director of communications for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, told KDKA political editor Jon Delano.

The first of 10 licenses will go to the highest bidder on Wednesday morning for new casinos about one-quarter the size of existing casinos.

"Somewhere around 700 or so maximum slot machines and 40 tables wherein the Meadows has well over 3,000 slot machines and the Rivers has 125 tables," said Harbach.

Where these end up is anybody's guess with 40 percent of the state's municipalities opting out of consideration as a casino location, including over 50 communities in Allegheny County.

The area in blue on this Gaming Control Board map are all municipalities that don't want a casino, while the yellow circles are the non-compete areas around existing casinos.

(Source: Pa. Gaming Board)

The list of municipalities that have opted out can be found here:

In this round, only the owners of existing Pennsylvania casinos can bid for a satellite casino, but neither the Rivers nor the Meadows will confirm they are bidding.

One area that wants a casino -- Lawrence County.

"We feel that Lawrence County has a lot to offer in terms of its geographic location, the number of interstates that either run directly through our county or near our county," says Lawrence County Commission Chair Dan Vogler. "And the fact when you take our county's population and add the counties that surround us, you got about a million people."

The county reached out to all potential bidders and Vogler is in Harrisburg to attend the first auction.

"I hope at least one of the bids has the words Lawrence County on it," he said.

We'll find out soon.

Again, only one license to the highest bidder is awarded on Wednesday.

Then, a second sealed envelope from that winner will be opened to see the location of the new casino.

Every two weeks the process will be done all over again -- until all 10 new licenses are issued.

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