The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) on Wednesday unanimously approved a license for the proposed mini-casino at the Nittany Mall, but a potential appeal and a parallel lawsuit by a competing company mean the facility is unlikely to move forward any time soon.
SC Gaming OpCo, owned by investor and former Penn State trustee Ira Lubert, was awarded the state’s fifth category 4 casino license about two and half years after Lubert won an auction to apply with a $10 million bid.
The $127 million casino project is planned for the 94,000-square-foot former Macy’s property at the College Township mall.
While the board approved the license, it cannot be issued until any appeals are resolved, and a competing casino company is likely to contest the decision.
Stadium Casino, which was the losing bidder at the 2020 auction, has argued that Lubert subsequently partnered with other entities and individuals who may have ownership interests and who were not eligible to bid because they had no pre-existing interests in Pennsylvania casinos. State law for Category 4 casinos requires bidders to have ownership in existing casinos in Pennsylvania, and Lubert was eligible because of his ownership interest in Rivers Casino Pittsburgh.
SC Gaming has partnered with Bally’s, which does not have any Pennsylvania casinos, to develop the project. The board on Wednesday also approved a casino management license for Bally’s.
Baltimore-based Stadium, which operates the Live! casinos in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, contended that the PGCB did not even have the statutory authority to consider the license application because of the ownership questions.
Stadium was granted 15 minutes to speak at Wednesday’s hearing but was denied discovery and not permitted to question witnesses. Attorney Mark Aronchick called the limitations “an abuse of discretion” by the board and said that because Stadium was the only party involved questioning the authority to consider the application, an adversarial hearing should have been conducted.
“You have tied our hands. You are not permitting us to do it in the proper way and that is not right,” Aronchick said.
PGCB’s chief enforcement counsel, Cyrus Pitre, said the board’s statutory authority is clear.
“The authority is in the [Pennsylvania gaming] act. The act is replete with the authority of this board, so as far as I’m concerned that argument goes out the window. Everything submitted by Mr. Lubert as an applicant is similar to just about every other application that we’ve received for a category 1, 2, 3, 4 license. His application is no different from Stadium’s application or any other applicant that came before us in general. There is nothing unsuitable about the application. There is nothing unsuitable about the integrity of the source of the funds, the source of the bid. All of that has been investigated and is of a suitable nature,” Cyrus Pitre said.
Lubert’s attorneys stated that he is the sole owner of SC Gaming OpCo, that any transfer of ownership would require PGCB approval and that state law does not prohibit having other financial backers.
Office of Enforcement Counsel attorney Ashley Gabrielle said PGCB’s Bureau of Investigations and Enforcement and its Financial Investigations Unit conducted “exhaustive and detailed” background investigations and found no issues.
“…OEC is of the opinion that SC Gaming OpCo is eligible and suitable for the issuance of a category 4 slot machine license at this time. As such, OEC is of the opinion that the board has the authority and duty to consider this application as it does any other application that is ripe for consideration,” Gabrielle said.
An appeal of the board’s decision would go to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Stadium also has a lawsuit against Lubert and the PGCB pending in Commonwealth Court, with no clear timeline.