Not betting on casino possibility

It will not be an economic catastrophe if neither the Altoona area nor the area close to Johnstown lands a mini casino as the result of an auction to be conducted by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board around Sept. 4.

Pennsylvania is saturated with gambling options, and some people rightly wonder how a casino in one of the areas in question would be able to survive long-term, considering the often-uncertain economic climate that this part of the commonwealth experiences.

Without a major metropolitan area like Pittsburgh or Philadelphia in close proximity to either Altoona or Johnstown, it is reasonable to wonder whether a sufficient, consistent money flow into such a gambling facility would be available to keep the operation profitable — and in business.

However, numerous people from the Altoona and Johnstown areas travel to Rocky Gap Casino in northern Maryland, to the Lady Luck Casino in Fayette County, and even to Harrisburg, Washington County, Pittsburgh, Erie and other Keystone State gambling meccas — as well as to non-Pennsylvania venues.

Therefore, it is not impossible that a mini casino here like the one being envisioned by state officials could survive, despite the already existing statewide gambling saturation.

There is a big area north of Altoona and Johnstown that could be a source for players and revenue if a local mini casino were to materialize. Those players also could provide an economic boost if, during the course of their gambling trip, they take time to enjoy other local amenities, visit restaurants and stores, buy gasoline for their vehicles and check in at local hotels and motels.

It is reasonable to assume that area tourism officials already are discussing — or preparing to discuss — the many possible ways to capitalize on a casino’s presence.

But first is the question of how much potential-bidder interest the auction will attract, if any. There’s no guarantee that someone capable of paying the minimum $7.5 million bid price for what are identified as Category 4 slot machine licenses will come forward. Beyond that, there’s the issue of an additional $2.5 million fee if a successful bidder were to seek a separate certificate for table games.

According to a July 11 Mirror article, a Category 4 casino like the one being proposed is permitted by the state gaming board to have between 300 and 750 slot machines along with a maximum of 30 table games, with the capability of adding an additional 10 table games after its first year of operation.

From an economic perspective, the prospect of having a nearby casino is exciting. However, many casino opponents fear financial damage to individuals and families, as well as broken relationships, when someone fails to gamble responsibly.

Some opponents also are fearful of an adverse effect on their property values.

On the issue of problem gambling, it is important to note that if someone is determined to gamble — or has a gambling addiction — he or she will travel to some other locale to “play the machines” or plop down money at the tables, if no slots or table games are available close to home.

This region’s casino issue rests then on the point of keeping Pennsylvania money here as well as very likely attracting gambling revenue from northern Maryland and the part of West Virginia south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Many area people will be paying close attention to how the auction plays out.