Blair municipalities all in on casino

No towns, townships in county have opted out of hosting site for mini-casino

One month after a new gambling expansion law was enacted, municipalities in Lancaster County are leading the way in declaring they won’t host a mini-casino. None of Blair County’s 24 municipalities have yet to opt out.

In counties surrounding Blair County, Upper Yoder and Middle Taylor townships in Cambria County, Decatur and Knox townships in Clearfield County and Howard Township in Centre County have voted to opt out.

A total of 137 municipalities across Pennsylvania — the vast majority being townships — have exercised the law’s opt-out provision for hosting mini-casinos as of Monday, according to a list updated weekly by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

The largest cluster of opt-out municipalities so far is in Lancaster County, where anti-gambling sentiment is long-standing. Twenty-six municipalities representing about 20 percent of the county’s population have passed resolutions to that effect at public meetings.

A second cluster is in Chester County, where 15 municipalities have opted out.

The law gives municipalities until Dec. 31 to pass opt-out resolutions for mini-casinos. The process will guide Category 1 and Category 2 casinos as they submit sealed bids for the right to build a mini-casino within a 15-mile radius of their desired location.

The gaming board is preparing for an initial auction for one of the 10 mini-casino licenses in early January. The licenses will be bid one at a time in successive auctions.

Sens. Ryan Aument and Scott Martin, both Lancaster County Repub­licans, said they are not surprised at the wave of opt-outs and predict more local municipalities will follow suit when they hold board meetings next month.

They are tracking the deliberations underway in municipal governing boards.

The senators sent letters to municipal officials advising them of the tight time frame to opt out. Both voted against the gambling expansion bill.

Martin said Tuesday that it’s likely that all of Lancaster’s 60 municipalities will opt out by year’s end. He said many are concerned the county could be targeted for a mini-casino because of its sizeable population and proximity to major cities.

“Lancaster County has had long-held convictions in response to the expansion of gambling,” said Aument. “It (mini-casinos) has the potential to really change the culture of Lancaster County in a way that is negative.”

Aument said he has heard from members of grassroots anti-gambling groups that were active when earlier gambling bills were debated in Harrisburg.

Meanwhile, a gradual transformation of the membership of the gaming board was completed Monday with the appointment of Obra Kernodle by Gov. Tom Wolf. Kernodle has been a deputy chief of staff to Wolf. He replaces William Ryan Jr., a gaming board appointee of former Gov. Tom Corbett, whose term expired.