A mini-casino planned for Beaver County is at least six months behind its own construction schedule as state investigators continue to scrutinize its license application.
Meanwhile, the state Gaming Control Board granted a license last week to a Berks County mini-casino that applied in a similar timeline to the Beaver County one.
Mount Airy Casino and Resort originally anticipated groundbreaking for Mount Airy Pittsburgh by the end of last year near the intersection of I-376 and the state turnpike in Big Beaver in Beaver County.
At least the same six-month delay would appear to be the case for Mount Airy Pittsburgh’s grand opening, which originally was slated by the company to be by the end of this year. Hollywood Casino Morgantown in Berks County, granted its license last Wednesday, said it will open in late 2020.
Mount Airy’s license application “is still residing in the (gaming board’s) Bureau of Investigations and Enforcement for background work,” Doug Harbach, the gaming board’s director of communications, said Wednesday.
Harbach said that Mount Airy could have begun construction before it would receive its license, as long as it had all necessary local permits.
But Big Beaver, which is required to modify its state Department of Environmental Protection Act 537 wastewater and sewage disposal plan when new developments are proposed or borough needs change, has also been in limbo for six months.
Borough officials initially applied for an exemption from the rule, but DEP sent it a letter on Jan. 4 saying the borough failed to provide sufficient gallon per day projections for treatment through the Beaver Falls Water Pollution Control Plant. As of Thursday, a DEP official said it “is not reviewing planning or permitting” for the borough.
Big Beaver’s solicitor did not return repeated calls for comment.
Reached Wednesday, a Mount Airy spokeswoman said no work has been done at the site. “There has been no action on the development.”
She said Mount Airy is waiting to hear from the state gaming board, and couldn’t comment on how construction and opening dates might be affected. She also referred questions about the sewage concern to the state DEP.
The state Gaming Control Board conducts a long, multi-layered review process of each gaming license application, which may or may not result in its approval.
Part of that process is an investigations and enforcement unit review that may take into account BeaverCountian.com’s reports that Mount Airy casino’s former owner, Louis DeNaples, had been attending mini-casino-related meetings last year despite a state ban on his doing business with gaming as a result of controversies involving alleged mob links.
Harbach last year confirmed the investigations unit was in part reviewing BeaverCountian.com’s reporting revealing DeNaples’ involvement. BeaverCountian.com also received a request for further information about DeNaples from a senior investigator with the gaming board. He was referred to prior published stories.
The state has imposed $420,000 in fines against Mount Airy since December for allowing underage individuals to drink and gamble at its resort in the Poconos, and failing to implement a promised system to track and limit the number of drinks provided to patrons. Mount Airy’s failure to implement the system came to light in February of last year when a patron who had consumed too much alcohol at the resort drove from the casino and struck and killed a pedestrian, according to a press release issued earlier this year by the Gaming Control Board.
The new Berks County mini-casino owned by Penn National Gaming is in Caervarnon Township, just off the Morgantown exit of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
Penn National Gaming identified the general site in April 2018, submitted its application on Oct. 31, and had its local public hearing on March 4. Its state hearing and subsequent unanimous board approval was last Wednesday.
In comparison, Mount Airy identified its general site in February 2018, submitted its application on Oct. 9, and had its local public hearing on Dec. 4. Harbach said a state hearing – which could or could not result in an immediate board vote – has not been scheduled.
Harbach said the hearing won’t be scheduled until the investigations unit makes its findings available to the board.
Mount Airy Casino & Resort, the state’s only family-owned casino, won a competitive bid for a mini-casino license from the state in February. The company bid a total of $23.6 million to open a facility that would operate 750 slot machines, 30 table games and high-limit area with a buffet and sports bar, according to its press release.
The 100-acre commercially zoned site was acquired in 2017 by BiKop LP for $3 million, and was initially planned to house warehouse space. BiKop is a company controlled by developer Pat Nardelli, a partner in Castlebrook Development Group. The press release stated that Mount Airy will purchase the land, but did not provide any details on the price tag.
Mount Airy was founded by DeNaples, who was indicted by a Dauphin County grand jury in 2008 on four perjury charges for allegedly lying about mob ties when he was granted a license for its Poconos site in 2006.
DeNaples agreed to turn over legal control of Mount Airy to a trust headed by his daughter Lisa in 2009 in exchange for the dismissal of the charges against him. The state also banned him from any further contact with or profit from gaming.
But county officials in Beaver and Butler counties confirmed to BeaverCountian.com that Louis DeNaples attended meetings about the mini-casino.