Three years ago, Penn National Gaming filed a federal lawsuit to try to stop Pennsylvania from creating the mini-casinos allowed in the gaming expansion laws of 2017. How times have changed: In three days, PNG will open its first mini-casino – one in York County that it says will complement rather than cannibalize its largest Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course 40 miles to the north.
Much has changed in Penn National’s stance on mini-casinos since 2018, starting with two successful auctions from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board earlier this year for Category 4 sites, as they are officially known. . The company later withdrew its lawsuit against the state, saying it had decided to focus on developing the two projects in York and Berks counties rather than fighting a law it originally proclaimed. would harm its main casino.
The result is the opening, scheduled for Thursday at noon, of the Hollywood Casino York, a $ 120 million investment in the York Galleria Mall that includes the $ 50.1 million for PNG’s winning auction. The rest of the money was spent to renovate the old Sears space on the first floor of the mall and fill it with slots, table games, restaurants and a sportsbook / OTB lounge.
This week, residents of York and surrounding counties can opt for a shorter trip than ever before to play casino games. The 15the casino in Pennsylvania – and the second mini-casino after Live! The Pittsburgh property opened last November in Westmoreland County – may not have all the glitz of a Las Vegas venue, but it will present a convenient opportunity to bet on the outcome of a spin slot machine, blackjack card, ball game result, etc.
“We are very optimistic that we are bringing the right product to market and that we will be very successful,” said Erin Chamberlin, senior vice president of northeast operations for Penn National. Paris Penn in an interview last week.
No longer a defensive approach
Chamberlin was working for a competitor instead of Penn National when the state’s mini-casino law was enacted and the company began to respond to it, but she said her approach had clearly shifted to a more positive outlook. .
The initial position after winning the January 2018 bid was a “defensive” position, she said.
“It was to set up a casino in York and make it relatively small and use it more as a means of defending our territory at the Penn National Race Course in Grantville,” Chamberlin explained. “But then we really started to see an opportunity in looking at York Region and the growth it has experienced – we really think there is an opportunity for us to develop this market. “
She said the large regional gaming operator now sees mini-casinos as a “star” model, where Hollywood Casino York and the Hollywood Casino Morgantown property slated to open in December in Berks County can themselves. attract customers but also act as feeders for the main Hollywood casino, not far from Grantville.
These places are all much closer to each other than is the case with Live! The Pittsburgh mini-casino, located some 280 miles from Live! Property of Philadelphia to which it is attached on paper.
The population of south-central Pennsylvania has grown more than anywhere else in the state, which should be a boon for Hollywood Casino York. Live! Pittsburgh is on track to generate approximately $ 100 million in annual gambling revenue this year for The Cordish Companies. Chamberlin was there and praised this property, but she declined to make a public prediction on York County’s income.
“There’s a lot of business that comes from there at our Penn National Race Course in Grantville,” she said. “We know there are definitely players in this market, and we see an opportunity to capture those people and those in Maryland as well.”
Slot machines will be below the number allowed
To attract these customers, Hollywood Casino York will initially provide 510 slots, 24 table games, a Barstool-branded bookie and OTB race book, a Diner & Drinks sit-down restaurant and a Classic Grill take-out restaurant. A staff of 290 has been hired to serve customers using all of these.
Chamberlin said details are being worked out to get table games up to the 30 allowed quickly, but slot numbers won’t come close to the 750 allowed, let alone 1,927 in Grantville. It was a handicap to renovate the department store space rather than building from scratch, as is done at the Morgantown site.
“We wanted to make sure the experience was very open, very inviting, very comfortable for our players. So given the small size of the footprint, we didn’t think using all of the slots would make it the most comfortable gaming experience right now, ”Chamberlin said.
Limited space is also a factor, she explained, in restricting the smoking area to 15% of the play area to ensure the comfort of non-smokers. This is a much lower percentage than is typical in Pennsylvania casinos, which can allow smoking up to half the floor.
On the other hand, by renting space in the shopping center – technically located in the township of Springettsbury, outside the city of York – the casino has ample parking and a prominent location. along a busy stretch of US Route 30 off Interstate 83. The York Galleria itself is a far cry from the customer base it once was, given the decline in brick and mortar retailing. mortar, but Chamberlin said there was a strong feeling the casino would benefit stores still located there.
“The team here are proud to bring something back to life that was a vibrant economic engine for the community and to reestablish it that way,” she said.
In addition, a vacant space remains above the casino on what served as the second floor of the former Sears store. It’s possible that Penn National could eventually lease this area as well if it sees fit to expand the casino, although Chamberlin has said there is nothing the company is prepared to announce on this at this point.
Barstool Sportsbook and cashless gaming are new
Penn National has gradually supplied its casinos in the country’s legalized sports betting states with Barstool-branded sports betting, using its partial ownership of the Boston-based sports media company of the same name. Penn National’s online / mobile sportsbook also carries the Barstool brand, and its two Pennsylvania mini-casinos will each have Barstool sportsbooks where customers can drink, place bets and watch games on a wide range of TVs.
Among young men in their 20s and 30s, Barstool’s irreverent and attractive social media personalities, from founder Dave Portnoy all the way down, are having huge success.
“Some people will come because there is a sportsbook, and another group will come because it’s a Barstool Sportsbook and they are Barstool fans,” Chamberlin said. “You don’t just get the sportsbook folks, you get the Barstool folks.”
Another aspect of the new casino is its cashless technology, which Penn National first offered this summer at Grantville’s main casino and the company’s Meadows Racetrack & Casino. It allows customers with smartphones to avoid carrying large sums of money, using ATMs, transferring slot machine tickets from one machine to another, or carrying their game tokens table at a cashier’s cage. The system allows customers to download the company’s MyChoice app, transfer money from their bank cards or accounts to a digital wallet, and then scan the phone at slots and table games for transfer game funds.
Chamberlin said that an area will be set aside in the casino for team members to educate customers who need help on how to use cashless technology, although all gambling may also continue to be carried out by traditional monetary means.
“It’s to help people enjoy the convenience of switching between niches without printing a ticket,” she said. “Everything moves very seamlessly with your phone. We’ve found that COVID has brought silver liners… It’s just another way to bring something totally different and new to York, and we’re very optimistic about that.
Photo: Courtesy of Penn National Gaming