This town ain't big enough for the three of us

Written by Bill Toland on .

... Or, say, the four of us. Rivers Casino's revenues, a year after opening, are still below what forecasters were projecting three years ago. That doesn't mean the thing can't turn a profit, it just means that if it is turning one, it's much smaller than hoped.

So what would happen if you put another casino in Southwestern Pennsylvania, at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort? That's the question that the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board will be considering tomorrow morning, at the Wharton Township Municipal Building in Farmington.

A quick look at the speakers list doesn't seem to indicate much local opposition to the project, though Bill Paulos (owner of Cannery Casino Resorts, and thus the Meadows) figures to be against the Nemacolin project, as does Kim Hankins of the Meadows Standardbred Owners Association. That's because, if anyone is going to oppose the casino in Fayette County, it's going to be the two casinos already here, Rivers and Meadows Racetrack & Casino in Washington County.

The Meadows is doing quite well, ahead of early projections and neck-and-neck with Rivers every week when it comes to slots revenue. Being closer to Greene County, it has more to lose. And the man who has become the third-party public spokesman for The Meadows, Dave LaTorre, is also a spokesman for the proposed resort casino near Gettysburg, called Mason-Dixon Resorts Casino. The Nemacolin and Gettysburg proposals are in direct competition with each other (as are two other proposed "resort" casinos, one near Harrisburg and one in the Poconos; the four projects are competing for just one license). 

LaTorre points out that while one of the main knocks on the Gettysburg-area casino is that it is near a national military park, Nemacolin has the same problem kind of:

... p. 8 of Isle's "Tourism Impact Study" states "Although it should be noted that Nemacolin Woodlands Resort itself already attracts many tourists; the resort is not immediately adjacent to any sensitive cultural or historic sites of significance. " But the irony of this position is that elsewhere it uses Fort Necessity National Battlefield and Flight 93 Memorial as nearby attractions that will help drive tourists to their venue.

That's probably a lot of inside baseball right there, and LaTorre is speaking on Gettysburg's behalf, not the Meadows, when he cites these facts, but I'd still guess that the Meadows has the most to lose with a new casino 50 miles away by car (and Bill Paulos' appearance on the speakers list seems to confirm that, given that he's flying in from Las Vegas to be in Farmington tomorrow).

And even though the Nemacolin property is more distant still from Rivers, I'd also have to think that the Rivers Casino wants as few competitors within a 50-mile radius as possible. You also have to wonder how a fouth casino, in Lawrence County (should it ever be built) will affect Rivers' fortunes. Already the Meadows capture a lot of gamers coming from the south, living in the I-79 corridor. If Valley View Downs is ever built near New Castle, Rivers becomes outflanked to the north too. Still, if the resort casino ends up in Gettysburg or Harrisburg, or even the Poconos, they run into similar problems, given that Harrisburg already has a racetrack casino, and the Poconos has a casino already, too. 

... So: will it ever be built? The state Harness Racing Commission has Valley View Downs and Centaur Gaming on a short leash: "By  Oct. 5, Centaur Inc. of Indianapolis, which doesn't have the financial backing to build Valley View Downs, must certify to the commission there is at least one new written bid to take over the track project. ... If no bidders come forward, the racing license 'shall be automatically and immediately terminated, revoked and surrendered to the commission,' the panel said."

I wonder what constitutes a bid? Does it have to be a credible one? Because some dude from Canada already submitted a weird, typo-filled takeover bid in bankruptcy court this summer. His name is Colin Anten. He writes: "Centaur has tried the pink slip over-the-table deal, it sunk. So did the Titanic, the great ship, may she rest in peace. The casino is savable and my offer is sincere."

... State Treasurer Rob McCord continues with his lawsuit against the state Gaming Control Board: 

As you know, State Treasurer Rob McCord has taken the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to Commonwealth Court to force it to allow the Treasurer -- the only Gaming Control Board member directly accountable to voters -- into its closed-door executive sessions. On August 5, 2010, the Gaming Control Board filed its response with the Court in which it continued to fight to keep Treasurer McCord out, and attempted to deter him by making the very political allegations that the Treasurer predicted it would make. [Last week], Treasurer McCord filed his brief in this matter.

McCord's statement: "On August 3 in Commonwealth Court, I filed a brief in my lawsuit against the Gaming Control Board laying out the law and the facts in great detail. The brief shows that the law is clear, that I have all the rights of other Gaming Board members, except the right to vote, and that the Board is illegally trying to limit my participation in its meetings. These gaming licenses are valuable Commonwealth assets and the public deserves the strongest possible returns on its investment. This requires expert and independent oversight – both of which I can provide. I didn't come into office looking to pick this fight, but the Board has left me no choice and it is a fight worth fighting. The law is clear, the Board is wrong, and I am confident in my position."

Here are the court filings.

Odds and ends

The Battle of Gettysburg rages on ... If there are a bunch of trailers and RVs parked outside doubling as room accommodations, is it really a "resort hotel"? ... Is the Bay State casino bill dead and buried? ...29 racehorses die in a Charlestown, W.Va., fire ... A big jackpot at a California casino leads to a deadly robbery later ... Who wants to serve on the Ohio Casino Control Commission? (And please note the transparent application process, in which people have to publicly apply to be appointed, as opposed to Pennsylvania's system, where you just wake up one morning and Jeff Coy is suddenly on the gaming control board.)

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