PHILADELPHIA -- The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board erred when it awarded a casino license to a southwestern Pennsylvania resort because the process was flawed and the resort's proposal did not meet key criteria set by state law, an attorney for one of the three groups that lost out on the license told the state Supreme Court.
Mason-Dixon Resorts L.P., which had hoped to build a casino near Gettysburg battlefield, is appealing the gaming board's 6-1 decision in April to award the license to the 2,000-acre Nemacolin Woodlands Resort outside Pittsburgh. The contested permit allows 600 slot machines and, if the board approves it separately, 50 table games.
An attorney for Mason-Dixon, Stephen Schrier, told the state's highest court Wednesday that he wants the decision voided and the board ordered to reconsider who gets the license.
He argued that the proposal calls for the casino to be more than a mile from the hotel on the resort property, not in the hotel as he said is required by state law. He also argued Nemacolin failed to show that it had the 275 guest rooms that were required.
"This proposed facility is a far cry from the concept of a resort hotel casino," Schrier told the court. "They're placing a casino on the outermost limits of their property."
Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille acknowledged that the court would have to ponder that question.
"We'll have to determine what the meaning of the word 'in' is," Castille said.
Doug Sherman, an attorney for the gaming board, said the body had "very broad discretion" and that it did not make an error.
"There was no legal error committed by the board," he told the court, noting that the board saw evidence the resort had 322 rooms available, including hotel rooms, townhomes and private homes on the property. "All rooms do not have to be in the hotel proper."
As to the question of whether the casino had to be "in" a resort hotel, Sherman noted that Mason-Dixon's own proposal called for the casino to be 1,200 feet away. Using criteria that strict, he said, "There may not have been anybody the board found suitable."
Pennsylvania currently has 10 casinos in operation across the state and an 11th is set to open later this month, just outside Valley Forge National Historical Park in suburban Philadelphia. Mason-Dixon's proposal also had generated opposition from some Civil War preservationists who worried that gambling would sully the area's historic character and dishonor the sacrifice of soldiers who died in the war's tide-turning battle.
Five other casino licenses have been appealed since the state's gaming law was passed in 2004 and each of those decisions has been upheld by the Supreme Court, gaming board spokesman Doug Harbach said.
The court did not indicate when it would rule in the Mason-Dixon case.