West York mayor says mini-casino part of business 'synergy' plan
Mayor Shawn Mauck looks at the former Pfaltzgraff industrial complex in West York and sees a thriving hotel and convention center, as well as a prosperous mini-casino and a busy York Expo Center.
Penn National spent $50 million on the first of 10 state licenses administered by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board in order to set up shop in York County. The owner of Hollywood Casino would be allowed to operate the new site within a 15-mile radius of Yoe in municipalities that have allowed it to be there.
Mauck said luring a mini-casino to the borough is part of a bigger economic plan.
“We’re waiting to see what Penn National does,” he said. “I did have a meeting with them and they did look at some of the locations in the borough. We’re very optimistic about our chances.”
Mauck said the borough has three locations in mind: the former Giant supermarket at 1200 W. Market St.; the old Pfaltzgraff building; and an undeveloped plot owned by Kinsley Construction.
But even as the mayor works on his pitch, there's always the possibility Penn National won't choose West York — or any other York County municipality, for that matter.
In fact, a company spokesman said that's the preference.
The day before the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board issued Penn National a license for a mini-casino in York County, the company filed a lawsuit in federal court in Harrisburg. In it, Penn National claimed 10 more mini-casinos would cause "significant and unique" harm to its suburban Harrisburg-based Hollywood Casino.
Penn National said the law, passed in October, effectively allows competing casino owners to use the new mini-casinos to pick off its relatively far-flung customer base, while the protections in the law are far more adequate for the rest of Pennsylvania’s casino owners.
Eric Schippers, a Penn National spokesman, has said their bid for a York County mini-casino was made with "one eye toward defense and another toward offense."
If the company's lawsuit prevails, the state will not add any mini-casinos, and Penn National will go back to operating Hollywood Casino as usual, he said, adding that this is the company's preference.
Mauck said he thinks the lawsuit has merit.
"Penn National points out the expansions are in the center of the state, when most of the gambling occurs on the ends of the state," Mauck said. "I can see their argument that they are trying to keep their market share in the center of the state."
Mauck said he's not heard any legitimate complaints about Penn National's business practices. One of his selling points to them, he said, is that West York has its own police department. He said having a mini-casino in the borough could help reduce crime because when buildings are no longer vacant, crime goes down.
“I’m advocating for Penn National to have a hotel and convention center setup or to have some kind of investment at the industrial complex that is literally an eyesore,” Mauck said. “To me, they could turn that into a hotel and convention center property, have the casino over at Giant, and maybe have a concert venue at the fairgrounds.”
Mauck envisions a “synergy” within the borough that would cause a local business chain reaction over one to two years. It would create a “great destination trifecta,” he said.
“There is a method to my madness,” Mauck said. “Because the one thing about business that I think we miss is if you have those solid destination anchors, everyone else will come.
"The problem in West York for the last 40 years is that there has not been a really good anchor for people to say, ‘Hey, I want to come and spend an hour in West York,’" he added. "Or they have been in that old mindset, ‘Well we close at 4 o’clock,’ and you can’t develop a walkable downtown if it’s never open.”
There were 38 York County municipalities that opted out of allowing a mini-casino within their boundaries. Springettsbury Township recently changed its decision and is now vying for the category 4 mini-casino.
Kelly Kelch, West Manchester Township manager, said Penn National is also welcome in his municipality.
“We would definitely invite them to our township if they found a facility that was suitable for them,” he said. “We met with them, and so did a number of municipalities.”
Kelch said he believes the township would reap anywhere from $400,000 to $1 million in casino revenue. That money, he said, would most likely fund items such as township police salaries and infrastructure projects.
Manchester Township manager Tim James said his municipality is experienced with gambling. The township has had a more than 25-year history of being a Penn National off-track wagering facility host.
“Our history with that has been very good,” James said. “They’ve been a good neighbor and partner. If it’s anything similar to this, I don’t think we have much adversity to go with it.”
James said he recalled a Northern York County Regional Police report that revealed — over a three- to five-year period — there was one 911 hang-up call; one unruly patron; and two fire alarm calls at the betting facility.
As managers in other municipalities let the chips fall where they may, Mauck indicated West York will continue to actively court Penn National.
“We’re a municipality, we all like to work together, but at the same time ... I believe we’re best suited to be the new home of the casino," Mauck said. "And our residents would benefit from it.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.