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New casino could be built near Penn State

HARRISBURG — A casino could be built near Penn State University’s flagship campus, after Pennsylvania on Wednesday found another taker for a mini-casino license, auctioning it for $10 million to a Philadelphia-area private equity investor.

Ira Lubert beat one other bidder, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board said after the sealed-bid auction limited to owners of the state’s licensed casinos.

Lubert, who helped open Valley Forge Casino Resort before selling it, was qualified to bid because he is a partner in Rivers Casino Pittsburgh. He does not have to name an exact location until he submits formal paperwork, required within six months.

But, under auction rules, he named the center of a 15-mile radius area — Unionville Borough in Centre County — in which he plans to locate it.

A possible candidate is the Nittany Mall, just outside State College.

Lupert, a Penn State board member, signed paperwork on behalf of Nittany Gaming LLC for an option to lease a former department store in the Nittany Mall in 2018, StateCollege.com reported.

The gaming board held the auction under orders from state lawmakers in a search for cash as tax collections are buffeted by economic fallout from the coronavirus.

The auction was authorized by an aggressive 2017 state law to expand gambling. Its provisions included authorizing auctions of 10 mini-casino licenses that allow the holder to operate up to 750 slot machines and, for an additional fee of $2.5 million, up to 40 table games.

A casino cannot come within 40 miles of another casino location, rendering Pennsylvania’s largest metropolitan areas off-limits.

The state received bids in five auctions in 2018, but interest petered out in the sixth auction and another auction ordered by lawmakers last year drew no bids.

None of the mini-casinos have opened yet and one successful bidder, the owners of Mount Airy Casino Resort in the Pocono Mountains, saw regulators reject their proposed mini-casino after acknowledging that they couldn’t finance the project.

One mini-casino is being built near the city of Reading, along the Pennsylvania Turnpike, while two are sited in south-central Pennsylvania and another is being built in Westmoreland County, in western Pennsylvania.

All told, the state has reaped about $121 million in bids.

With 12 casinos operating, Pennsylvania was the nation’s No. 2 state for commercial casino revenue, behind Nevada, at $3.4 billion in 2019, according to American Gaming Association figures.

It was No. 1 in tax revenue from casino gambling last year at $1.5 billion.

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Follow Marc Levy on Twitter at www.twitter.com/timelywriter.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press.

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