State College Casino Opposition Mounting in Happy Valley; College Township Council Mulls Next Step

Written By Erin Flynn Jay on September 22, 2022 - Last Updated on May 25, 2023
State College Casino opposition mounting in Happy Valley

Strong opposition to the proposed casino at the Nittany Mall has manifested through hundreds of emails to the College Township Council in opposition to the proposed casino over the past several weeks. And also through extremely high turnout at the last two meetings of the College Township Council.

Dozens of area residents have spoken out against the casino at these meetings (with the number of speakers at each meeting being limited by the time allotted for public comments), and no one has spoken in support of it.

The Commonwealth Court has been deliberating for a long period of time on the case alleging that Ira Lubert improperly partnered with ineligible parties to win the license for this casino. Andrew Shaffer, a State College resident, said this suggests that the case is not a slam dunk for Lubert. He thinks we might see a verdict that strips Lubert of his license for this casino any day.

“If such a verdict is issued, our expectation is that the Cordish Companies would be awarded the license in Mr. Lubert’s place, and that they would then choose to develop their casino in a different part of the state that is more profitable than State College,” he said.

Fight against State College Casino continues

If the community does not receive the Court’s ruling in the near future, it will continue its fight against the development of this casino with all resources at its disposal. There were over 200 emails in opposition of the Nittany Mall casino submitted for the Sept. 1 meeting alone.

Earlier this year, volunteers went door-to-door in the community collecting signatures for a petition opposing the casino. During this signature collection, area residents opposed the casino at a rate of 9 to 1. Two weeks ago, conducted an unscientific poll in which approximately 80% of nearly 1,900 respondents opposed the casino.

The local community’s opposition to the proposed casino at the Nittany Mall may be as strong or stronger than the Gettysburg community’s opposition to the previously proposed casino near the Gettysburg battlefield memorial that had its license denied by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) because of overwhelming public opposition.

“The opposition to the Gettysburg casino was rooted in the perceived sacrilege of constructing a casino on the hallowed ground where thousands of Americans bled and died to preserve the Union,” said Shaffer. “The opposition to the proposed Nittany Mall Casino is rooted in widespread revulsion at what appears to be a transparent attempt by former and current Penn State trustees to exploit thousands of Penn State students for their own personal financial gain.”

College Township Council letter to PGCB could tip the scales, residents say

The community is asking the Council to formally register the overwhelming opposition and relay the disapproval to the PGCB. Residents are asking the Council to submit a letter to the PGCB requesting that the proposed casino’s license be denied. Shaffer said the Council appears receptive to these requests, and it is currently conferring with its Solicitor to determine if the Township would risk incurring legal liability by submitting such a letter.

As stated during the 9/15/2022 Council meeting, many area residents would rather pay for a legal battle to keep Lubert’s casino out of Happy Valley entirely than to allow his casino to be built and then to have it prey upon the community for the next several decades.

Shaffer said it would be unprecedented if the Council submits the requested letter to the PGCB. He says the PGCB would be hard pressed to maintain that it actually upholds its mandate to consider the interests of each casino’s local host municipality if it ignores such a request from College Township.

“Therefore, if the Township submits the requested letter, we expect the license for the proposed casino will certainly be denied,” said Shaffer.

Is the avalanche of local opposition enough to sway PGCB license denial?

However, even if the Township withholds its letter due to potential threat of a lawsuit, the PGCB is likely already aware of the community’s overwhelming opposition to the proposal.

That includes public record of the correspondence sent to the Township, recordings of the recent Council meetings discussing the subject, and feedback that has been submitted directly to the PGCB during its public feedback period for the casino earlier this year.

“The PGCB is responsible to reject the proposed casino’s license based on the local community’s opposition whether the Township represents that opposition through an official letter or not,” said Shaffer. “We therefore expect the PGCB to deny the license for the proposed casino even if the Township does not submit the letter that the community is requesting.”

A bad bet for Bally’s?

Should the PGCB actually approve this casino’s license and allow the development of the casino to move forward, Shaffer said they expect that Lubert will sell his interest in the casino for a tidy profit after a few years (as he did with the Valley Forge Casino) and that his partner Bally’s Corporation will ultimately wind up disappointed and embarrassed.

“Penn State will not subordinate its institutional interests to those of the casino for Lubert’s benefit forever, and if the casino does end up being built here the College Township Council will keep the casino on a very tight leash from the outset,” he surmised.

It is Shaffer’s opinion that Bally’s has never before encountered a community as educated, resourceful, and resolute in its opposition to hosting a local casino as the community surrounding Penn State University. And that community believes that this casino would ultimately prove to be an unprofitable addition to Pennsylvania’s already-saturated gambling market.

It’s evident that the State College community (or at least hundreds of vocal residents) does not welcome the development of a local casino. For that reason, Shaffer thinks Bally’s would be better off canceling the development of the Nittany Mall Casino now and focusing its resources on the development of its new $1.7B destination casino in Chicago instead.

One resident thinks the costs outweigh the benefits of a casino in State College

John Pitterle, a 30-year resident of College Township, lives minutes away from the Nittany Mall and the proposed casino. He thinks gambling is not a positive thing that we want our children to grow up and do on a regular basis.

“Many, many people have had problems as a result of gambling,” Pitterle told PlayPennsylvania. “Thus, why would we want to risk inviting gambling and such problems into our region?”

Like the State College Borough, Patton Township, and Ferguson Township already have, Pitterle believes the community should oppose the casino. One reason is casinos are self-serving, and don’t have the community’s best interests at heart.

“Casinos primarily serve their owners who expect to make lots of money at the expense of their customers who will mostly lose money. Some will lose significantly, and they are the reason I think it is best that we do not even open a casino in the Nittany Mall. Because casinos do not really help people, why should we allow them to harm some people?”

If the casino does gain approval, Pitterle is not optimistic regarding the resulting fruit it will produce.

“Yes, some people will get jobs. The owners will make money. A small percentage of people may make money via gambling. Most people will lose money when they gamble,” Pitterle said.

“And some will become addicted, have poverty problems, have family problems, have economic problems, etc. And having a casino this close to a big university like Penn State is just a bad idea. That could be like opening Pandora’s box. Not a wise thing to do. Too risky.”

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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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