Change of heart: Springettsbury board wants in on casino action

Jana Benscoter
York Dispatch

On second thought ... deal Springettsbury Township in.

The township supervisors voted 4-1 Thursday, Feb. 8, to rescind its earlier resolution opting out of consideration to host a "mini-casino" — a new category that was part of a gaming expansion law passed last year.

In bidding last month for the first of 10 licenses to be issued, Penn National Gaming paid $50 million for the opportunity to place a casino in York County.

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Mini-casinos can have 750 slot machines, and Penn National, which operates Hollywood Casino near Harrisburg, says it plans to pay another $2.5 million to operate 30 table games. 

In this July 1, 2013, file photo, casino patrons play some of the 600 slot machines at the Lady Luck Casino Nemacolin, located approximately 70 miles south of Pittsburgh, shortly after its grand opening in Farmington, Pa.

The company's new operation would be located somewhere inside a 30-mile circle centered on Yoe that encompasses the majority of York County.

The state Gaming Control Board gave municipalities the right to opt out of potentially hosting a mini-casino, and 38 municipalities in York County, including Springettsbury Township, exercised that option.

However, the potential economic boost was tempting enough for the Springetts board to reconsider Thursday.

Supervisor Charles Wurster said his research shows a casino in the township would be a "win for the community."

He referenced a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, which he said used a Pennsylvania model for casino use as an example. 

Supervisor Kathleen Phan was the only no vote to rescind a resolution to prohibit casinos in Springettsbury Township. (Jana Benscoter)

"What it boiled down to is if we can put a casino that attracts visitors but hires local employees and is situated in a location where it can mix and mingle with other businesses within the township, the Federal Reserve of Boston actually concludes that is a win for the community, " Wurster said. 

"A casino, however, located out in the middle of nowhere that attracts only local customers at the expense of other businesses and employs people from outside the area, that is a loss to that community," he added.

Supervisor Blanda Nace said he's excited about the the possibility of hosting a mini-casino.

He admitted his initial excitement was fueled by the idea that up to half of the township's budget could be paid for through mini-casino revenue. Further research, however, shows the more accurate amount is between $300,000 and $1 million, Nace said.

"I think we have a lot to go for," he said, noting the revenue could be used to offset property taxes.

After receiving more information about the mini-casinos, Supervisor Chairman Mark Swomley said he was willing to support rescinding the earlier "opt-out". 

He explained his decision was based on economic development, and the additional revenue could help establish Springettsbury as a destination.

Supervisor Kathleen Phan, the sole no vote Thursday, said as long as she is a supervisor she will oppose a casino. She said she doesn't think it's morally correct. 

"When I look at Springettsbury, I see family events; I see historical homes; I see shopping; I see farmland; and I don’t see casinos or small gambling in Springettsbury Township,” Phan said.

Residents she has talked to about the casino expect supervisors to look at the budget and balance it correctly. They have told her, she said, they don’t want malls, and they don’t want casinos.

The fourth yes vote was cast by Vice Chairman George Dvoryak. Former Supervisor Bill Schenck had voted against the original resolution, which split the board 3-to-2 against mini-casinos. 

Bob Gundlach, who attended the Thursday meeting, said his wife, Mary, will be pleased the supervisors had a change of heart about casinos.

“She likes to go a couple times a year,” he said. “There’s a couple of girls that go up to the Poconos, Sands up in Bethlehem and up to Harrisburg to Hollywood Casino to the race track.”

Gundlach, a Springettsbury resident for more than 20 years, said he's fine with the decision if it generates revenue for the township.

Would he try his luck at a local mini-casino?

"Probably not.”