Bally’s Corporation announced on Monday that it has signed an agreement with investor and Penn State alumnus Ira Lubert to develop a planned $120 million mini-casino in Centre County.
While the specific location has not yet been named, a Bally’s press release stated it will be located “near the Nittany Mall.” Pending regulatory approvals, construction is expected to begin in the first half of 2021 and will take approximately one year to complete.
Lubert, a former Penn State trustee, had the winning bid at a Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board auction in September for a new Category 4 casino license. Lubert’s $10,000,101 bid named Unionville in Centre County as the centerpoint location, meaning the casino could be placed within a 15-mile radius of the borough in a municipality that has not opted out of consideration as a casino location.
Per the framework agreement, Lubert and Bally’s will “jointly design, develop, construct and manage” the mini-casino.
“I am excited to have Bally’s as our partner to complement our vision, industry experience and financing capabilities,” Lubert said in a statement. 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.”
Lubert is still required to submit a formal application to the Gaming Control Board that will include the precise site of the proposed casino, along detailed information about the proposed building plan, amenities, and employment projections.
After the application is submitted and determined to be complete, the PGCB will publish it on its website and conduct a public hearing in the municipality where the casino is proposed. Host municipalities and counties each receive 2% of a casino’s slot machine revenue and 1% of table game revenues.
The new casino is expected to have up to 750 slot machines and 30 table games. If approved for separate licenses and certificates, it also will provide retail sports betting, online sports betting and online gaming.
A mini-casino allows for 300-750 slot machines. For an additional fee of $2.5 million, a licensee can apply for permission to initially operate up to 30 table games, with an additional 10 after the first year of operation. Sports wagering requires a separate $10 million license fee.
It will be the 15th casino across 11 states owned and managed by Bally’s. President and CEO George Papanier said Pennsylvania represents an “attractive… gaming market” for the company to expand its footprint.
“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,” Papanier said. “We look forward to combining our own proven track record of greenfield development with Ira Lubert’s local knowledge and expertise to bring Bally’s first-in-class gaming experience and amenities to customers and sports fans across Pennsylvania.”
Lubert is licensed by the PGCB through his ownership interest in Holdings Acquisitions Co., LP, operator of Rivers Casino Pittsburgh.
“Ira is an experienced real estate developer with significant ties to the greater Centre County community and a proven track record in Pennsylvania gaming,” Papanier said. “We look forward to working with Ira, not only to build and develop the facility, but to contribute to the surrounding community.”
The total project cost, including construction, licensing and sports betting/iGaming operations, is estimated at $120 million. Bally’s will acquire a majority equity interest in the partnership, including 100% of interests of all retail sports betting, online sports betting and iGaming activities associated with the project.
The transaction is subject to receipt of required regulatory approvals, operating certificates and other closing conditions.
In 2018, Lubert was the authorized member of Nittany Gaming LLC, which signed a memorandum of lease option for the former Bon-Ton space in the Nittany Mall. But at a 2019 auction for a category 4 license there were no bidders.
Twenty Centre County municipalities opted to prohibit being the site of a mini-casino when the state began rolling out category 4 licenses in 2017. College Township did not, citing potential development in the mall area, nor did nearby Benner Township.
According to a spokesperson for Nittany Mall ownership, the portion of the mall zoned for gaming was the former Macy’s parcel.
“That parcel was under contract for sale to a local developer in September,” the spokesperson wrote in an email on Monday. “As of now, there is no further information to share from ownership’s end.”