Hollywood Casino York Opening Impressions, Smoking Dilemma & Expansion Plans

Posted By Kevin Shelly on August 13, 2021

The good news: Penn National Gaming’s Hollywood Casino York was packed on its opening day. Hundreds lined up in advance. Slot seats filled. There was a wait to get in later in the afternoon. A nice turnaround for a long-vacant mall space and former Sears location in Springettsbury Township.

But the bad news: First, patrons say the 38,000 sq. ft. gaming floor with 510 machines felt cramped. And second, the smallness meant the smell of cigarette smoke soon spread beyond the rear corner space where smoking is allowed in the low-ceilinged operation.

Smoking space on Hollywood York vacant second floor a possibility

But there is a potential solution for both issues:

  • Space directly above the ground floor casino appears likely to be redeveloped by Penn with additional gambling space allowing for a smoking section segregated from the main floor, as well as away from the first Barstool Sports location on the East Coast.
  • The second floor space has much taller ceilings.

Penn officials on hand for the opening hoopla on Thursday ducked on a direct answer to their plans for the vacant space in the Galleria Mall. PlayPennsylvania first broke the news of their expansion interest for the mini-casino in mid-June.

Penn spokesman Jeff Morris gave a couched response but did not deny that a second-floor expansion for a smoking space could happen:

Any potential future phases of the casino are still speculative at this time and depend on how the market responds to our new facility, the pending legislative debate over the legalization of VGTs and skill games, regulatory review and approvals, etc.

Such an expansion needs Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) approval. No paperwork is yet on file, though. York could potentially add another 240 slot machines under its mini-casino designation.

Penn National will have two mini-casinos in PA by the end of the year

The license for the mini-casino cost Penn $50.1 million. Construction to date was another $120 million.

Penn is based near Reading and is the only PA-based casino company. This is their third property in PA. Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course and The Meadows are well-established, and a fourth property (another mini-casino) is planned to open before the end of the year, Hollywood Casino Morgantown.

Lots of positive feedback for Hollywood Casino York

Positive comments about the opening from an online forum I posted included:

  • “I think it’s great for the local economy! It’s already provided so many jobs to locals, and I’m excited to see the increase in cash flow for local businesses and hotels from people who travel in for the casino”
  • “I have no interest in games of chance, smoke-filled rooms, or crowds. But I think it is great. Jobs. Entertainment. Maybe in my dreams, I hope the tax revenue would lower my school taxes.”
  • “Those complaining about gambling coming here? Plenty of skill machines at bars, Rutters, pull tabs, etc. Gambling is already here. Relax. If  you don’t like it, don’t go.”
  • “I think it will be a great boost to tourism – and make folks travel a bit south from the Lancaster shops or stop by on the way towards Gettysburg. But those houses nearby aren’t going to be happy. It might be super great. At least it’s something happening and not shut down like most shopping centers during this pandemic.”
  •  “It will bring more and better restaurants to that area.”
  • “Gambling is a form of entertainment no different than going to the movies a nightclub or bar or mini-golfing. Smart people take only what they can afford to spend and have a good time.”
  • “I foresee a good thing for the Springettsbury coffers. These small casinos are not bad seeds for a community as a lot of people might think. I’ve been to Rivers in Pittsburgh and the one above Harrisburg, which are slightly larger and they are well maintained. I would expect the same here.”
  • “Anything seems better than a big empty mall. I’ve gone on bus trips to out-of-town casinos so it will bring in some tourist dollars. And jobs.”

Dollars for the township

Springettsbury Township Supervisor Mark Swamley predicted the local take from the casino will be from $1 million to $2 million in new revenue. The casino donated more than $134,000 to local charities before opening.

Greg Reedy closed down his painting company to attend the opening with friends and quickly found his place watching the big screens in the Barstool space. He already has a reward card, and though he sports gambles online mostly, he greatly prefers wagering in person.

In fact, he planned to come back in the evening Thursday to bet on games.

Few criticisms of the new York Casino

Criticisms of the facility focused on allowing smoking, the cramped feel, and traffic worries.

And while the parking lot was jammed, traffic was not a problem getting to or from the space.

‘Hub and spoke’ for the mothership Hollywood Casino in Grantville

Erin Chamberlin, Senior VP, Regional Operations at Penn, said the York location was initially meant to protect the flank of their primary casino north of Harrisburg, Hollywood Casino Grantville.

But as thinking evolved, they now see York as a way to grow their market. That works, she said, because all of the properties share the same mychoice rewards card “ecosystem.”

According to Chamberlin, the fact that points earned in York can be used to attend events in Grantville, such as an upcoming outdoor Journey concert, makes the ecosystem work.

Penn recognizes that online betting can likewise tie its community of players into a bigger market, rather than cutting up segments. That’s part of their thinking and marketing, especially when it comes to tapping into promotional ideas from Barstool.

She noted a huge Barstool presence is planned for Grantville.

And the company’s cardless, cashless, contactless ‘mywallet’ should add to that seamlessness. The new technology is in York and will get added to additional properties later.

Get a look at the new Hollywood Casino York:

Photos taken by Kevin Shelly.
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Kevin Shelly

Kevin C. Shelly is an award-winning career journalist who has spent most of his career in South Jersey. He's the former assistant city editor of The Press of Atlantic City, where he covered the casino industry and Atlantic City government as a reporter. He was also an investigative, narrative enterprise, and features reporter for Gannett’s Courier-Post.

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