Meeting to seek public input on proposed casino in Berks

 

Plans for a casino in Berks County have taken a big step toward becoming reality.

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board on Wednesday unanimously approved Penn National Gaming's plans for Hollywood Casino Morgantown.

The vote in Harrisburg came after a hearing at which the Wyomissing-based company detailed for the board its plans to build and operate the casino on a 36-acre plot of land in Caernarvon Township, where the Pennsylvania Turnpike, Interstate 176 and Route 10 come together.

"It's recognized that Penn National Gaming is a good corporate citizen," said Kevin O'Toole, executive director of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. "We have regulated Pennies National Gaming pretty much since the beginning of legalized gaming in Pennsylvania."

The proposal, which previously won unanimous support from the township's supervisors, calls for 30 table games and 750 slot machines, along with bars, a restaurant, food court, and entertainment lounge.

Company officials shared with the state's gaming regulators their expectations of the casino's impact on the state and local economy, traffic, and the community as a whole.

Penn National said the casino, once up and running, would support more than 1,700 jobs, including 311 in Caernarvon Township, and generate $1.9 million in personal income, sales, and business taxes.

"The township stands to make, we estimate, about $1.6 million a year in contributions from the property, which, for them, is a significant part of the budget," said John Finamore, senior vice president of regional operations for Penn National.

The company said only people 21 years of age and older would be permitted inside the complex and that traffic would be less of an issue than it would have been for a shopping center that was previously approved for the site.

Penn National said it expects most of its customers to travel to the casino by way of Interstate 176 from the Reading area and the Pennsylvania Turnpike from Philadelphia and its western suburbs.

Despite the township's support for the casino, the plans have been met with some opposition from nearby residents and those who live outside the area.

"We came to Morgantown because it's a small community, a rural community, a Christian community, and what we believe is the casino is not a good thing for the Morgantown culture," said Scott Caley, who attended Wednesday's hearing in Harrisburg.

"I think time will prove that we'll be able to be very good neighbors for Caernarvon Township," Finamore said.

The company said it hopes to open the casino in late-2020.