HARRISBURG—After months of hearings and testimony, the Gaming Control Board has awarded the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Fayette County the state's second and final resort casino license. The announcement came during the board's bimonthly meeting. The western Pennsylvania resort beat out two Harrisburg area candidates for the license.
In a 6 to 1 vote, the Pittsburgh-area hotel was awarded the license over two Harrisburg-area candidates and one from the Poconos. Nemacolin received the six votes, with the Fernwood Hotel and Resort in the Poconos receiving the lone other vote. Projects based at the Eisenhower Inn in Gettysburg and the Park Inn near Mechanicsburg received no votes from the seven-person board.
"I couldn't be happier," said Stephanie Mendenhall. She lives across the street from the Eisenhower Inn, and she has been active in "No Casino Gettysburg," the group opposed to the Mason-Dixon Resort and Casino gambling project.
"I feel great," No Casino Gettysburg leader Susan Star Paddock said. "It's a win for our grassroots group. It's a win for Adams County, it's a win for the nation, and it's a win for future generations."
Star Paddock's group opposed the proposed Mason-Dixon casino due to its location 1/2 mile south of the Gettysburg National Military Park.
"I don't think there's any question the people of Adams County lost," Mason-Dixon spokesman David LaTorre said. "They're the big losers in this," he said, because the casino would have stimulated tourism, created jobs and led to lower taxes.
So, too, was the claim in Hampden Township, Cumberland County, where Penn Harris Gaming planned to build an RV-themed casino at the Park Inn on the Carlisle Pike.
"We're very disappointed," Michael Sklar of Penn Harris said. "We still believe that we had the best project among the four applicants, but we respect the board's decision."
Previous Story by Michael Gorsegner, Staff Reporter:
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board is expected to make a decision today about the state's final resort casino license. In the running, two possible sites from our area including hotels in Gettysburg and near Mechanicsburg.
The battle for the state's second and final resort casino license has been ongoing for over a year. In the mix are four sites from all across the state. The state Gaming Control Board will meet at the State Museum later this morning where they are expected to make the final decision in this process.
"We have the best location in the state and we are going to generate the most revenue, the most jobs for the commonwealth," said Michael Sklar with Penn Harris Gaming during an August 2010 hearing.
The owners of Penn Harris gaming hope statements like this can persuade the gaming control board to vote in favor of a Mechanicsburg resort casino. After months of talking and jockeying, a final decision is expected later today.
"Unlike any other business, a casino changes the identity of a community," said Susan Star-Paddock of No Casino Gettysburg during a rally on Tuesday.
The pros and cons of the four sites have been debated in the year-plus process. Two of the sites are in our area. The Eisenhower Inn in Gettysburg and the Park Inn, formerly the Holiday Inn Harrisburg West in Mechanicsburg, are in the running for the license. Two other spots include the Nemacolin Resort outside of Pittsburgh and a the Fernwood Hotel in the Poconos.
"You need new business, you need new jobs to spur that and without that, there isn't going to be a future," said Jeff Klein of Pro Casino Adams County during a rally on Tuesday.
At stake, a casino with a maximum of 600 slots and 50 table games. Opponents say both Central PA sites have problems. The Park Inn fails to meet the minimum room requirement for the license, so they bought dozens of RV's to fill the void.
"This actually violates the statute and makes a mockery of the intent of the law when Pennsylvania gaming first came to light," said Penn National Spokeswoman Karen Bailey during an August hearing.
While detractors of the Gettysburg site say the Eisenhower Inn is too close to the battlefields, possibly tarnishing its proud heritage.
The meeting at the State Museum begins at 9:30 a.m. The casino license is the first thing on the agenda.
Even though this could be the board's final decision, it may not be the end of the road for these four groups. When the other resort casino license was awarded, there was a year-long court battle that ensued. No one would be surprised if this one hits the courts as well.