Bally’s Casino Plans Near Penn State University Uncover Problem Gambling Questions

Written By Erin Flynn Jay on March 7, 2023 - Last Updated on February 28, 2024
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With its recent license approval in Pennsylvania, Bally’s Casino is looking to break ground and set up in College Township, not far from State College. PA’s newest mini-casino would be about 4.5 miles from Penn State University’s campus, bringing to the forefront some questions and concerns around underage gambling.

During the licensing hearing for State College Casino, regulators asked whether Bally’s had any particular plans around responsible gambling related to its proximity to the college. At the time of the hearing, Bally’s representatives had nothing specific to report. Bally’s has not returned a request for comment from PlayPennsylvania.

In light of ongoing discussions around advertising to those who are not of legal gambling age, Bally’s Pennsylvania will have to do its due diligence to stay in compliance and to prevent those under 21 from gambling on their premises.

Responsible Gambling requirements by the PGCB for new casinos

The PGCB requires each PA casino licensee to create and maintain a responsible gambling plan. The plan must be approved by the Office of Compulsive and Problem Gambling. (See section 501a.2 of the Board’s regs.)

“These plans contain all RG/PG-related policies and procedures including handling individuals who have been self-excluded, excluded, or who are underage; RG/PG signage locations; the required employee training program, advertisement policies; and policies and procedures on providing information on PG/RG to customers,” said Doug Harbach, Communications Director for the PA Gaming Control Board (PGCB).

The Board needs slot licensees to train employees and establish procedures to prevent underage gambling. That includes procedures to identify and remove anyone under 21 found gambling or engaging in other activities on the casino floor.

Casino employees must report such instances to casino compliance representatives and the Pennsylvania State Police. When minors are caught, by a patron or a casino employee, those instances are reported to the PGCB and usually met with a fine and questions around future measures of prevention.

Cracking down on advertising to college students under 21

Another important aspect of compliance involves restrictions on mail advertisements. Gambling companies may not send gambling advertisements to anyone under 21 (or to anyone on a PGCB exclusion list).

This aspect of RG compliance is a hot topic in today’s gaming industry. Just recently, two major sports betting operators in Ohio accepted lofty fines for advertising to college students not of legal gambling age.

Barstool, owned by Penn Entertainment, violated the commission’s rules for advertising nearby or on an Ohio university’s campus, plus rules against targeting individuals under the age of 21. The violation was for hosting the Barstool College Football Show near the University of Toledo on Nov. 15, where the sportsbook promoted pre-registration for the app along with bonus money. Penn accepted a $250,000 fine for the violation.

DraftKings accepted a fine of $350,000 for sending about 2,500 direct mail ads to Ohioans under 21.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine sent a message in December to sportsbook companies saying that the state is keeping a close eye on them and their advertising and promotional activities in Ohio.

During a press conference at the Ohio statehouse, DeWine said that he’s aware of “several” recent occurrences of sportsbook operators not following Ohio laws regarding sports betting advertising and promotional offers in the state.

Other state regulators like those in PA have been doing the same.

What can Penn State University do to protect students?

Bally’s won’t be the first to set up shop near a PA college or university.

Other university campuses are much closer to existing casinos. For example, Seton Hill University is 2.5 miles away from Live! Casino Pittsburgh at the Greensburg Mall, and the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg is 2.7 miles away from this casino.

Several more examples include:

  • Shippensburg University (near the new Parx Casino)
  • York College (near Hollywood Casino York)
  • Several colleges and universities within a short distance of several greater Philadelphia area casinos

It would not be the role of the PGCB to initiate any relationship with PSU for problem gambling prevention. However, Harbach pointed out:

“The school could apply for a Local Law Enforcement Grant through us and use it for compulsive gambling-related endeavors. The PGCB last year awarded a grant to Shippensburg University which sits in the same township as the recently opened Parx Casino Shippensburg.”

As part of PA gambling expansion in 2004, the Local Law Enforcement Grant program was set up for local projects to help investigate and “enforce laws relating to unlawful gambling” in PA. The allocation for these grants is $2 million per year to fund projects with up to $250,000.

RG resources and problem gambling protections available in PA

Additionally, there are other programs and organizations whose primary purpose is to help with problem gambling prevention and treatment. Among the Responsible Gambling resources available in Pennsylvania are:

  • Self-exclusion programs for all forms of gambling regulated by the PGCB
  • Self-imposed limits for online gaming (amount of spend or time on site)
  • Gambling disorder treatment funded from gaming revenue (and overseen by the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs or DDAP)
  • State-funded prevention programs at the community level which are funded from gaming revenue (and also overseen by DDAP)
  • Statewide PSAs and media campaigns funded by gaming revenue in PA

Among the DDAP programs for problem gambling prevention are special presentations for vulnerable populations including elementary, middle and high school students.

The PGCB has a separate website that addresses compulsive and problem gambling.

Latest updates on Bally’s Casino plans for State College

Earning approval from the PGCB was a big first step. However, Bally’s and SC Gaming still have several obstacles to overcome in court.

A Commonwealth court first issued a court order against SC Gaming and the PGCB because it viewed some issues with the licensing as “ripe” last month.

More recently, Stadium Casino, the group that lost the bid, appealed the license ruling with the PA Supreme Court.

With all of this ongoing, it’s difficult to tell when they’ll be able to begin breaking ground on the project.

Valerie Cross contributed to this article.

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Written by
Erin Flynn Jay

Erin Flynn Jay is a freelance reporter based in Philadelphia. Recent national writing includes Woman’s World Magazine, Bar & Restaurant and Next Avenue (produced by Twin Cities PBS).

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