As part of Pennsylvania’s widespread gambling expansion legislation, the Keystone State is getting up to 10 new casinos. Well, satellite casinos, that is. These smaller casinos, also called mini-casinos, will feature 300 to 750 slot machines. Some might also include up to 30 table games.
The law passed in October of 2017. However, the satellite casino process did not begin until January 2018. The process for doling out satellite casino licenses featured a series of live auctions. Those auctions ran out of bidders in April 2019, but Senate Bill 710 legally required the PA Gaming Control Board (PGCB) resume the process on Sept. 4 with a few tweaks.
The auctions yielded five licenses. Plans for all of the mini-casinos are in various stages of development, but each one has a finalized location. Take a look at where the venues will be. The timelines currently plan most launches for 2020:
Current list of satellite casino projects in Pennsylvania
April 4 auction: After two-month hiatus, auctions return
Auction winner: Hollywood Casino at Penn National
Winning bid: $7,500,003
Total bidders: 1
Satellite location: Morgantown, PA in Lancaster County
After a long break due to bad weather, the subsequent round of auctions got underway in April but generated only a single bidder. That bidder was the same entity behind the first satellite casino bid.
Penn National secured a second satellite property in West Cocalico Township, PA. The location is between Philadelphia and Harrisburg. It strengthens the boundary around Hollywood Casino, which claimed it was receiving unfair treatment as a result of the mini-casino process.
The company dropped its lawsuit in July. It is still searching for a satellite site, so it applied for and obtained an extension at the September PGCB meeting. It is the only license still waiting on a finalized location.
At the end of October, the last of the mini-casinos turned in plans for Hollywood Casino Morgantown. Morgantown is a township near West Cocalico. The project will cost $111 million to build and is the first satellite property to officially say it plans to offer a retail sportsbook.
Read more on the second Penn National mini-casino site.
Feb. 22 auction: Sands slip-up gives Parx the property
Auction winner: Parx Casino
Winning bid: $8,111,000
Total bidders: N/A
Satellite location: Shippensburg, PA in Cumberland County
There was some drama around the fourth license, as Sands initially put in a winning bid of $9,885,000. However, because Sands selected a location whose radius where the company could build overlapped with Mount Airy’s site, PGCB voided the bid. As the only other bidder, Parx Casino essentially won by default.
Parx selected a location west of the first satellite property in Yoe, PA. The South Newton location is also close to Harrisburg and the Maryland state line.
In August, Parx joined the list of mini-casino properties that requested an extension to turn in satellite casino plans. The PGCB granted the extension until Oct. 23.
After trying and failing to get Carlisle to reverse its opt-out designation, Parx eventually found a mini-casino home, just in the nick of time.
Parx turned in plans to PGCB on Oct. 22 for a location in Shippensburg. The central Pennsylvania township is only an hour from Maryland’s state line.
Feb. 8 auction: Mount Airy storms New Castle
Auction winner: Mount Airy Casino
Winning bid: $21,888,888.88
Total bidders: 3
Satellite location: Big Beaver, PA in Lawrence County
Mount Airy may be one of the smaller casinos in Pennsylvania, but it brought big bucks to the auction, bidding $21.89 million. It’s New Castle, PA location is just a few miles from the Ohio state line. With Youngstown, OH just 30 minutes away, the mini casino should draw a fair amount of traffic from the Buckeye State. It should also be tough competition for small and struggling Presque Isle Downs in Erie, PA.
In late July, Mount Airy petitioned the PGCB for extra time to lock in a satellite site. It is one of several groups that is struggling to find a host community.
The struggles were not too long for Mount Airy though. Just two weeks after filing for its extension, Mount Airy announced plans for a mini-casino in Big Beaver, PA. The property will be called Mount Airy Pittsburgh. In addition to the satellite casino, there will also be a full-service hotel, convention space, spa, and other amenities you would find at a major PA casino.
More on Mount Airy’s bid.
Jan. 21 auction: Stadium Casino sets sites on Pittsburgh
Auction winner: Stadium Casinos LLC (Philly Live! Casino)
Winning bid: $40,100,005
Total bidders: 4
Satellite location: Greensburg, PA in Westmoreland County
Even though Stadium Casinos LLC had not broken ground on its Philadelphia property yet, it wasted no time getting into the satellite casino game too. With a relatively large bid, the group secured the Derry location, which is just east of metropolitan Pittsburgh. With a property just 43 miles from Rivers Casino in the heart of the city, the Stadium group seems intent on having a presence in both of Pennsylvania’s major cities.
In July, Stadium announced it found a site for its mini-casino. It will take over the space currently occupied by Bon Ton in the Westmoreland Mall. Even though its brick and mortar casino is not built yet, it appears Stadium could be the first to market with a satellite property.
However, with new rumors swirling about the Stadium Casino project falling apart, suddenly the Westmoreland location’s status is in question, along with everything tied to the venue.
A December PGCB hearing could shed some light on the entire stadium situation. On Dec. 5, the PGCB will host a meeting in Greensburg, PA for the public to offer input on the new project.
More on the second project from Stadium Casinos LLC.
Jan. 10 auction: Penn National bids big for Yoe, PA-area satellite property
Auction winner: Mountainview Thoroughbred Racing Association, LLC (aka Hollywood Casino)
Winning bid: $50,100,000
Total bidders: 4
Satellite location: York, PA in York County
Hollywood Casino’s owners made jaws drop with a hefty bid of $50 million, which was well above industry projections. Most were expecting the initial bid to be between $30 – $40 million, but Penn National went big to secure the Yoe location.
The selected site is roughly 50 miles south of Hollywood Casino and 20 miles north of the Maryland state line. It appears Penn tactically selected a location that would best help protect the centrally located Hollywood from competition.
While it shelled out big bucks for the satellite, it waged a legal battle to get the satellite law overturned. Penn maintains its central location with no nearby casinos leaves it unfairly vulnerable to these satellite properties. Nonetheless, it dropped the suit in July.
The company also obtained an extension from PGCB to turn in plans. With that extra time, Penn National found a location in York. That location used to be a Sears store in York Galleria, but will soon be one of two Penn National satellite properties. The company filed the official paperwork for the property at the Sept. 12 PGCB meeting.
Read more about Hollywood Casino’s winning bid and plans for the new property.
Overview of the satellite casino law
Here is more about how the process works, including:
- Provisions of the satellite casino licenses
- Calendar of dates
- Map of opted-out municipalities
The law allows for ten new casinos that fall into a new category of gambling establishment, Category 4. These Category 4 properties can offer between 300-750 slot machines. In order to do that, the property needs to purchase a $7.5 million license. Should the license holder want to offer up to 30 table games, it would need to pay for an additional $2.5 million license.
These satellite properties originally could not be within 25 miles of an existing Category 1, 2, or 3 property. When the second round of auctions resume, that distance requirement is a little tougher. New satellite properties cannot be within 40 miles of any Category 1-3 property as well as any of the five Category 4 properties currently in development.
There is also a stipulation in the law affecting Mount Airy Casino, which effectively creates a bigger buffer zone for the relatively small and isolated casino. Penn National, which owns Hollywood Casino and The Meadows’ parent company Pinnacle, started suing the state over the unfair treatment, but eventually dropped the legal action.
Here is a breakdown of the existing casino properties by category:
Category 1: Racinos
- Harrah’s Philadelphia
- The Meadows Racetrack and Casino
- Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs
- Parx Casino and Racing
- Hollywood Casino at Penn National Racecourse
- Presque Isle Downs
Category 2: Standalone casinos
Category 3: Resort casinos
Most of these properties are also the people who got first crack at satellite properties. The initial auctions were only open to Category 1 and 2 properties.
There was one additional group included in the auctions though. That is Stadium Casino LLC’s Philly Live! casino project at Stadium Park in Philadelphia. The property is just getting under construction, but once it is complete, it will be the state’s fifth standalone Category 2 casino.
When it comes to where to put these satellite casinos, groups are limited by more than just a buffer zone around existing casinos. From the time Gov. Tom Wolf signed the bill into law in early November until the end of 2017, municipalities across the state had the option to opt out of hosting a property.
In order to opt out, municipalities had to hold a public meeting, take a vote, and send written documentation of that vote to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB). Over 1,000 municipalities in Pennsylvania opted out, while only a handful publicly lobbied to get a new casino.
PGCB released a map of the buffer zones and opted-out cities once the process was over. Yellow circles reflect the buffer zones. Blue indicates a municipality which opted out: