If gambling comes to Centre County, we hope it isn’t a bust for residents

Pennsylvania — at least those in charge of running it — has yet to demonstrate a significant appetite for limiting how much legal gambling it will allow, all based off the panacea that is the promise of increased tax revenue for the state.

As such, it probably shouldn’t be surprising that the mid-state, which thus far has largely avoided the effort to remake parts of the commonwealth in Nevada’s image, appears to be the next target for a so-called “mini-casino.”

On Wednesday, the state successfully auctioned off another gambling license to a man named Ira Lubert, who paid a tidy $10 million for the privilege. Lubert, who is from Philadelphia, but is an alumnus of and board member for Penn State University in addition to being a partner at Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, has revealed his plan to locate a new gaming enterprise somewhere within a 15-mile radius of Unionville in Centre County, although he hasn’t yet had to declare its exactly where it will be.

One possible location, as first reported by StateCollege.com, is a former department store in the Nittany Mall. The two most prominent empty storefronts there are the former Sears and the former Macy’s, each of which has plenty of available open floor space.

The mall, which has seen a steady decrease in foot traffic, especially after the closure of its anchor stores, would almost certainly welcome with open arms the attraction a mini-casino would provide, as would the remaining businesses in the mall, because it would be a virtual guarantee to bring more potential shoppers into the facility, something the mall desperately needs to remain financially solvent for the long term.

The State College market has to be attractive to the casino industry due to its proximity to Penn State, its students and the crowds events like football games on campus normally draw to Centre County.

Now, the “mini-casino” would have limitations. Under that type of license, up to 750 slot machines can be operated legally. If Lubert is willing to part with another $2.5 million, he could also operate as many as 40 table games — such as blackjack, poker, baccarat, roulette or craps.

But for a market such as State College, a full-size casino probably wouldn’t be necessary to meet demand most of the time.

We’ve said in this space before that expanded gambling is like a ratchet in that it only turns one way. And no matter what legitimate concerns people may have about the negative consequences of gambling — such as increased potential for violence, crime and gambling addiction — once that train gets moving down the tracks, good luck stopping it.

The cautionary tale of casinos is this — they don’t profit off us, the general public, winning.

If a mini-casino opens, we have little doubt the casino will get what it wants. We also have little doubt the state will get what it wants.

What we’re worried about is whether it will be a bust for Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Taxpayer, who have to live with whatever unforeseen effects a mini-casino’s presence in the neighborhood may bring.


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