The weather delayed the inevitable, but Pennsylvania did run a successful casino auction this week. After a day’s delay, Thursday Mount Airy Casino grabbed the latest satellite casino license. The northeastern Pennsylvania casino secured the deal with a winning bid of $21,888,888.88.
Mount Airy now has two business days to wire the bid amount to Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. It has six months to put together and submit its official mini casino application,
New mini casino will be in New Castle area
Mount Airy selected a location for the new property on the eastern side of the state, New Castle, PA. The town is just about 12 miles from the Ohio border. Additionally, it is just a 30-minute drive away from Youngstown, OH. The greater Youngstown area boasts a population of over 500,000.
It appears Mount Airy sought a location that would bring in new customers from Ohio, unlike the previous two bidders. Stadium Casino LLC selected a spot just outside of Pittsburgh, while Penn National chose a location that helped shield its Hollywood Casino from potential mini casino competition. While that location is 30 miles from the Maryland state line, it isn’t located near any major populations in the neighboring state.
Youngstown, on the other hand, is a potential crop of customers who previously had limited casino options. There is a property just outside of town though, Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Racetrack. However, that property only features video lottery terminals, not slot machines and table games.
Within Pennsylvania, the closest competition for Mount Airy as of now is Presque Isle Downs in Erie, PA. One of the smaller Category 2 casinos, Presque Isle saw both slots revenue and table revenue decline last year. Slots were down 3.6 percent, while table games slid 2.6 percent.
Mount Airy’s selected location is closer to Youngstown, but both are equidistant from Cleveland, OH, which is roughly 100 miles away from each.
Mount Airy still took part, despite laws protecting it
Mount Airy’s participation surprised some industry insiders. The casino drew some unwanted attention in the news thanks to its protected status under the new gambling expansion laws.
The law created a buffer zone of sorts around Mount Airy, ensuring that it was protected from mini casinos getting too close to its home turf. That status drew the ire of Penn National, which has a pending lawsuit against the state on the subject. Hollywood Casino, unlike Mount Airy is centrally located and has no additional protections for mini casinos.
Latest mini casino auction drew three bidders
Mount Airy is not the only story coming out of the latest auction. It is interesting to note that the number of bidders is shrinking. There were three total bidders, compared to four at the previous auction.
If the pool continues to shrink at this pace, the initial auction period will only award five of 10 possible licenses. It seems increasingly likely this process will move on to the supplemental auction phase.
For the supplemental auctions, Category 3 casinos Valley Forge and Lady Luck are allowed to participate and submit bids. Moreover, properties that already secured a license are allowed to come in and bid on a second one.
Of course, there is always the possibility that now the price of the highest bid is going down, more bidders might come out of the woodwork. Each auction bid includes the $7.5 million license fee, so that is effectively the minimum bid.
Satellite auctions continue to generate tons of revenue
Through three auctions, the mini casino process has brought in over $112 million in revenue for the state. Since the casinos must pay up immediately, that is money in the bank for the state. Throw in the $50 million Stadium Casino LLC paid for its Category 1 license and the $1 million Valley Forge paid to eliminate the $10 amenity fee, and the state is already nearing the $200 million in revenue it expected this year.
The bids are shrinking, but even if they drop down under $10 million, the auction process will still be considerd a huge success from a tax revenue standpoint.
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