Lights, Camera, Action! Hollywood York And Morgantown Mini-Casinos Preparing For 2021 Openings

Posted By Kevin Shelly on April 16, 2021 - Last Updated on April 23, 2021

A stream of four new mini-casinos is in the pipeline to join the Pennsylvania gaming market, beginning in August with Penn National‘s satellite facility, Hollywood York, at a rehabbed mall space in Springettsbury Township in York County.

Next comes Hollywood Morgantown, plunked between the PA Turnpike and Rt. 10 in Caernarvon Township in Berks County. That one is slated to open before the end of the year, likely in November.

The openings mean the state will host 16 casino properties by the end of the year, including three mini-casinos. The first mini, Live! Casino Pittsburgh debuted last November.

While Penn National has been coy about disclosing plans, a PlayPennsylvania reporter visited both sites this week and confirmed some details.

Two additional sites, a Parx Casino satellite for Shippensburg and a Bally’s Corporation-backed project for a suburb of State College, are also on the horizon.

April 23 update: State gaming officials will hold a public input hearing for Shippensburg on Thursday, May 20 at the Luhrs Performing Arts Center of Shippensburg University. Testimony can be made then regarding Parx Casino Shippensburg.

The hybrid hearing, with both live and video components, begins at 4:00 p.m. on the 20th. Details, including COVID-19 precautions and how to register to participate, are available via the state’s gaming site. The deadline to register is noon on Monday, May 17.

More to come on the Bally’s Penn State and Shippensburg Parx projects soon at PlayPA. But for now, let’s dig in to the Penn minis.

Penn carpeting region near flagship location with mini-casinos

Penn National paid $60 million just for the licensing rights to the two “satellite” casino locations.

Five minis were part of the Pennsylvania gaming expansion approved in 2017. Work shut-downs delayed the opening dates of Penn’s minis courtesy of COVID-19.

Parent company Penn National has corporate headquarters just a dozen miles away from Morgantown in the borough of Wyomissing, a suburb of Reading. Penn is the only casino company based in the Keystone state.

Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course in Grantville, Penn’s flagship PA property, is 50 minutes away from York and just more than an hour from Morgantown.

Penn is also the Meadows Racetrack and Casino operator in Western PA, making them the dominant casino operator in the Quaker State when their minis open.

Mini-casino in York County

A hiring office steps from the mini-casino space is already set up within the York Galleria Mall, a retail space decimated first by the retail apocalypse brought on by online shopping. The mall then got kicked hard while down by COVID-19 closures and ongoing restrictions.

Work on the casino space only resumed last November.

The remaining merchants in the mall are hopeful they will experience a rebound in foot traffic.

That can’t be soon enough.

All but one of the anchor stores is closed. The casino is going in a former Sears location. Maybe half of the smaller retail locations are shuttered, a major increase since PlayPennsylvania visited February a year ago. Upstairs, six sizable spaces in a row, near the wall blocking off the coming casino, sit dark and empty. Many other locations throughout are unoccupied.

The mall sits at the intersection of U.S. Route 30, which runs from east to west, and PA Route 24, at 2899 Whiteford Road.

The nearby city of York, briefly the United States’ capital in colonial times, is a small industrial city of about 44,000. Five suburbs, including Springettsbury, surround York. The metro population is more than 108,000, making Greater York the 11th largest city in PA. York produces Harley Davidson motorcycles and barbells.

A sportsbook, casual dining, bar, entertainment facilities, slots – up to 750 – are allowed, and 24 to 40 table games are planned for the 80,000-square-foot facility, projected initially to cost $120 million before the virus delay.

A Penn National gambler is excited

Barb Lauer, a York resident, seldom visits the mall these days, but she nipped in quickly to buy something to wear for a special occasion. “It’s bad,” she said of the empty stores.

A regular at Hollywood Casino in Grantville, she knows she’ll go to the mall mini-casino, her rewards card in hand. Before the virus, she wagered perhaps 20 times a year.

Lauer considers herself a “cautious” but regular player who limits her losses and has won as much as $4,000. She went as much for the food and entertainment deals which come with her rewards card as the slots.

Her only worry now is the mall location might be just a bit “too convenient.”

Hollywood Casino Morgantown details

Penn National’s Morgantown casino plans called for up to 750 slot machines, 30 table games, a betting lounge, a restaurant and food outlets, and an entertainment lounge on a 36-acre lot.

The location is about half the way between Philadelphia and Harrisburg.

The area surrounding Hollywood Casino Morgantown is not exactly bustling. A restaurant/bar, two motels, a McDonald’s, an auto mall, a dentist; That’s about it.

There was supposed to be a retail development adjacent to the casino’s location. But the habitat for an endangered turtle species bogged down and then killed that project about a decade ago. Still, the mall signs remain, reminders of a source of economic activity that never made it onto the tax roll.

Not all parties within Morgantown zip code wanted a casino

Technically, Morgantown is not actually a town, but rather a zip code for a region aggregating municipalities from three connected counties – Berks, Chester, and Lancaster.

There is, however, an actual unincorporated village in Caernarvon, Berks County named Morgantown. Confusingly, the address for Caernarvon’s township hall is Morgantown. Yet, another Caernarvon Township minutes away in Lancaster County is also part of the Morgantown zip.

Lancaster County had opted out of hosting casinos due to the influence of large Mennonite and Amish populations. They had no say about the Penn location, nor did others who were living within the zip code but beyond the boundary of Caernarvon in Berks.

Got it?

According to a long-time resident who wants to remain neutral and anonymous, bad feelings and political rancor remain despite the rural, small-town atmosphere. November is the target for opening, said the local source.

Doug Harbach, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, confirmed Morgantown plans to open in Q4 of this year.

Images c/o the author, Kevin Shelly.

Hollywood York renderings via PGCB Diversity Report.

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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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