Public Hearing Planned May 20 On Parx’s Altered Mini-Casino Project In Shippensburg

Residents of the Shippensburg area already had one chance two years ago to weigh in on the proposed Parx mini-casino in central Pennsylvania, and now they will have another.

Parx owner Greenwood Gaming and Entertainment encountered excavation problems with its original site at an Interstate 81 exit in Cumberland County, and it has moved the planned location about a mile away to a former Lowe’s home improvement store connected to the Shippen Towne Centre shopping plaza.

Due to the change, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board will hold another public hearing at 4 p.m. on May 20 at the Luhrs Performing Arts Center on the campus of nearby Shippensburg University. The board has posted information on its website advising how to register to speak at the meeting or to send written testimony.

At this point, there has been little visible public opposition to the gambling project in the three-plus years it has been pending to arrive in a largely rural area that is dominated by the presence of the state-owned university.

Mini-casino had been proposed to open last year

Parx won the right to develop its satellite mini-casino, which will have perhaps one-fourth the number of slot machines as at the Bucks County main racetrack-casino, with an $8.1 million bid at a February 2018 gaming board auction. At the time, it hoped to open the venue, known formally as a Category 4 casino, in 2020.

The various Pennsylvania mini-casino projects have all encountered delays of one kind or another, however, some due to COVID-19’s impact. The first mini-casino opened in November, by Cordish Gaming Group in Westmoreland County, and Penn National Gaming intends to open two later this year in York and Berks counties.

Parx now hopes to start work on the project this year and open in 2022, a timeline that is similar to a fifth mini-casino project, by Philadelphia businessman Ira Lubert and Bally’s Corp. in Centre County.

Central Pennsylvania has become a popular setting for development of the mini-casinos, considering the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh metropolitan areas already have an ample number of venues and there were prohibitions on siting the satellite casinos too close to existing ones.

Parx has touted its Shippensburg location as one that can take advantage of busy traffic on I-81 running between Maryland, located 29 miles to the south, and Carlisle, Harrisburg, and beyond. Its original application estimated the facility would attract 850,000 visitors annually and gross $42.5 million in annual revenue from slot machines, table games, and other sources.

Former Lowe’s could have 750 slots

Documents posted on the gaming board’s website show Parx/Greenwood officials submitted a new project application Oct. 14, 2020, with much of the information blacked out as confidential and some of it repeating information submitted in February 2019 for the prior site, including the local impact report.

Formally, the application comes from GW Cumberland Op Co, a new corporation that is part of Greenwood Racing Inc., which owns Greenwood Gaming and Entertainment, which in turn operates Parx, which is the biggest revenue generator among the state’s 14 existing casinos.

The application states the former Lowe’s site, which is adjacent to a Walmart Supercenter and other retail stores, has a 75,000-square-foot structure with 500 parking spaces available.

The application said the mini-casino would have “up to 750” slot machines and a “nationally branded restaurant and sports bar.” Previously, the company has stated it planned just 475 slots rather than going to the maximum allowed. The mini-casino is also permitted to have 30 to 40 table games.

The local impact report states the casino anticipates providing 200 full-time and part-time jobs once open, with the full-time positions averaging annual wages of $42,000. It estimated $23.2 million in direct annual tax revenue would be provided to state, county, and local governments, with Shippensburg Township itself to receive $690,000 or more.

“Greenwood will act as an economic engine and community partner, bringing jobs and tax revenue to the community,” according to the 2019 local impact report provided by the casino. “In total, the casino development is expected to have no negative impact on the township.”

Township supervisors have been supportive of the project and voted April 3 to grant a conditional use permit for it to proceed.

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