Bally’s Takes A Big Stake In Mini-Casino Coming To Centre County

The future mini-casino in Centre County will have Bally’s Corp. as a partner developing and managing it under an agreement announced Monday with private investor Ira Lubert.

Lubert won the right to put the mini-casino in the State College area with a high bid of $10 million at a Sept. 2 Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board auction, but scant details about plans for the project have emerged since then.

A press release from Bally’s stated it has signed “a framework agreement with Ira Lubert to jointly design, develop, construct and manage a Category 4 licensed casino.” It said construction would begin in the first half of 2021 and take about one year to complete, with an overall project cost of $120 million.

No site was identified, but local officials in Centre County have assumed the location would be in vacant department store space at Nittany Mall in College Township, about two miles from Penn State’s Beaver Stadium.

According to the auction submission, the site must be within a 15-mile radius of a centerpoint in Unionville Borough, but Lubert is not required to outline his specific plans to the gaming board until March.

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The plan includes online sportsbook and casino

Bally’s said in the announcement that it will acquire a majority equity interest in the partnership with Lubert, and it expects there to be retail and online sports betting and an iCasino connected to the operation. Those would require additional payment of $10 million to the gaming board for a sportsbook license and up to $12 million for the iCasino.

Bally’s currently owns 11 casinos across the country, including several recently acquired from Caesars Entertainment Inc. The company was formerly Twin River Worldwide Holdings and last year also acquired the Bally’s brand from Caesars.

“Expanding our rapidly growing, national footprint into the attractive Pennsylvania gaming market represents yet another major milestone for Bally’s and a great way to cap off a truly extraordinary year,” said George Papanier, Bally’s president and CEO.

“Regional, land-based casinos remain the cornerstone of our portfolio diversification strategy, providing the necessary support for the growth, development and success of our future sports betting and iGaming initiatives,” he added.

Partnering with a large, experienced casino company makes sense for Lubert, a Philadelphia businessman who has had ownership roles in the Valley Forge Casino Resort and Rivers Pittsburgh. The mini-casino auction process in September was revised beforehand by the legislature to open it not just to existing casinos but also to any individual who already held a state gaming license.

“I am excited to have Bally’s as our partner to complement our vision, industry experience and financing capabilities,” Lubert said in the press release. “Together, I believe we will make this transformative project successful for all stakeholders and look forward to the positive impact the redevelopment will have on the community.”

Two more mini-casinos to open before Bally’s

The gaming board will have to review Bally’s for licensing approval as a newcomer to operations in Pennsylvania. The company’s 11 existing casinos are in Rhode Island, Mississippi, Delaware, New Jersey, Louisiana, Missouri, and Colorado. It also has pending transactions to take over three more in Indiana, Illinois, and Nevada.

Its Pennsylvania operation will be small by comparison to those others, as the state’s mini-casinos are limited to 750 slot machines and 30 tables game upon opening. They can feature all the other amenities of larger casinos that their operators are willing to provide.

The first mini-casino opened in November, the Live! Pittsburgh venture of The Cordish Companies at Westmoreland Mall near Greensburg.

Three other mini-casinos are in various stages of development, with Penn National Gaming planning to open two of them in the second half of this year in Berks and York counties.

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