Debate Over State College Casino License Continues With PGCB Hearing Next Week

Written By Erin Flynn Jay on December 7, 2022 - Last Updated on February 3, 2023
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The State College area community has been awaiting news regarding the next step in the process for approving or denying the casino license application for the proposed Bally’s Casino in Happy Valley.

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) hearing for the proposed casino at the Nittany Mall in State College is Dec. 14, 2022, in Harrisburg. The hearing will be livestreamed on the PGCB website at 10 a.m. that day. The recording of the event will also be available at that website after the hearing.

Background on Cordish opposition to State College casino project

The first 19 pages are available of the 390-page petition to intervene filed with the PGCB on Aug. 26, 2022. Cordish Companies, which operates as Stadium Casino in Pennsylvania, filed this petition to intervene; they also filed a still-pending lawsuit in Commonwealth Court last year arguing SC Gaming OpCo owner Ira Lubert’s winning $10 million bid in a September 2020 auction to apply for a fifth Pennsylvania mini-casino was improperly awarded.

The seven appointed Commissioners of the PGCB will listen to arguments presented by both parties appearing before the hearing. On Nov. 30, 2022, PGCB Chief Counsel Stephen Cook notified both parties that the PGCB’s most senior members of counsel will not be participating at the hearing.

Nittany Mall Casino bid complications

Lubert was eligible to bid because of his ownership interest in Rivers Casino Pittsburgh. Stadium’s lawsuit and petition allege that he violated PGCB rules. He did so by partnering with Bally’s and other individuals who would not be eligible to bid on the Pennsylvania mini-casino.

SC Gaming OpCo lists developer Robert Poole and real estate executive and Penn State Trustee Richard Sokolov as vice presidents. Stadium alleges that they contributed to the payment of the bid. It also says they and others have control interests in the three LLCs established by Lubert for casino development.

Lubert has denied these allegations. In filings with the PGCB and Commonwealth Court, his attorneys wrote that Lubert paid for the bid from his personal bank account. That makes him the sole owner of SC Gaming OpCo. The filings state that while Poole and Sokolov are officers of the LLCs, they, nor anyone else, has ownership or control interests.

PA residents oppose Penn State casino

Local opposition to the casino centers on the impact this casino would have on Penn State’s student population. The effect online gambling has on the age group troubles residents in the area.

Daniel Materna is a vocal casino opponent in Centre County. Decades ago, he experienced the severe consequences of a family home becoming broken due to a severe gambling addiction.

Materna anticipates this legal matter will continue on into 2023. The PGCB cannot vote to approve or deny the casino license prior to completely resolving the Commonwealth Court proceedings filed on July 28, 2021.

“The case has languished in the court since March 7 while awaiting the judges’ official decision. No decision can be made by the PGCB while the Commonwealth Court case is still pending,” he told PlayPennsylvania. “If the PGCB approved the license, they would be clearly both stunned and embarrassed if the Commonwealth Court later ruled that the PGCB had accepted an invalid bid offer from the applicant and the PGCB had already approved the license anyway prior to that court decision.”

Similarly, if the PGCB denied the license prior to the conclusion of the Commonwealth Court case, they would face extreme difficulty in trying to explain why they made that decision while the case was still pending an official decision.

Attorney Mark Aronchick, representing the non-winning bidder, is arguably one of the most highly regarded attorneys in the Commonwealth. He squared off in court against Rudy Giuliani. Aronchick represented public officials in the Trump campaign’s ill-fated lawsuit to block the certification of the Pennsylvania vote in 2020.

Materna said he is confident that Aronchick will achieve his goal for the PGCB to allow the petition to intervene.

Be sure to check back next week as we provide complete coverage of the PGCB hearing.

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Written by
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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