Armstrong County Left Out of Gambling Expansion

Ford City was one of several municipalities that debated before deciding to pass a resolution prohibiting mini-casinos to locate in the borough.

Within the past month, municipal leaders looked to their solicitors to understand their options of prohibiting or allowing mini-casinos in their municipality.

Worthington, Ford City, and East Franklin Township all three passed prohibition resolutions, being warned of their solicitors that if they didn’t, casinos could end up wherever they would choose to locate within the municipality with no recourse by the municipality at that time.

One local attorney spent time researching the 900-page bill that was passed in October which gave municipalities until December 31 to create prohibition resolutions or forfeit the opportunity in the future.

Local lawyer Chuck Pascal, who also serves as the solicitor for North Buffalo Township, appeared on the WTYM morning show “David & Friends” last Friday to clarify the misinformation that was given by some solicitors.

Local Attorney Chuck Pascal said Armstrong County was left out when it comes to gambling expansion in Pennsylvania.

“The legislature passed a bill toward the end of the year that allowed the expansion of mini-casinos throughout the state,” Pascal began in his explanation. “In general, it provides a 25-mile buffer from any casino where another one could be located. The municipalities could opt in or out of allowing a casino to locate in their municipality. At the last minute, somehow, a provision was inserted into the bill which was meant to protect the Mount Airy Casino (Poconos) which is in Monroe County. That provision says that a Category 4 mini-casino license may not be located in a sixth class county which is contiguous to a county that has a Category 2 licensed facility – being a major casino like the Rivers (Pittsburgh). Armstrong County is a sixth class county which is continuous with Allegheny County which has a Category 2 facility. It means that Armstrong County is excluded totally from having a mini-casino in any case.”

Pascal said he had no clue why local State Representative Jeff Pyle did not participate in the discussion.

“It was meant for Monroe County. I believe that Armstrong County was accidentally swept up into it. Our legislator, Jeff Pyle, didn’t comment on it, or didn’t act to take it out, or didn’t know it was there. I don’t know what his position would be if he did know it was there. I don’t know if he wanted to exclude Armstrong County. Someone would have to ask him. There was obviously no push-back from Representative Pyle or anyone else out of Armstrong County. The reality is that it is there and it excludes Armstrong County. It’s what the law is.

Pascal said that any of the municipalities in Armstrong County that took time to debate the issue was misinformed.

“There’s no reason to act. They can pass whatever they want. It just doesn’t mean anything.”

Pascal believes the Commonwealth will act quickly to approve licenses in early 2017.

“I haven’t heard anywhere they want to put them. But they will have to begin approving them soon because the budget is dependent on new revenue from these places. We have an unbalanced budget that depends on revenue from these new places to balance that budget. We are hoping we will open enough of them in enough time to actually have some impact on the budget while we give yet another benefit to the casino industry.”

Since touted in 2009 as the cure that would decrease or eliminate property tax, Pascal said the average tax payer has not seen much change.

“There has been some minor rebates for property taxes  through casinos, but very minor. There has been significant state revenue. But is has not, to the degree it was touted, solved very many problems at all.”

Letters were sent to municipalities all over the state from anti-gambling associations urging local governments to prohibit the casino expansion. Those letters were even read at several of the public meetings. Pascal said that although it brought the legislation to light, it was inaccurate information in our county.

“We all have to do better at keeping up with what our legislature is doing. Months go by and nothing happens. Then in the last few weeks, they major pieces of legislation that tucked within them are these little tidbits that affect people one way or another. And people don’t know about them until they are passed.”

East Franklin Township supervisors had said last Thursday that they intended on updating their zoning ordinance in 2018 that would include areas for casinos – just in case. Zoning Officer Greg McKelvey perhaps had it right when he told the supervisors he didn’t see a mini-casino being established in Armstrong County.

“My personal opinion is that I do not feel that within this legislation and these ten mini-casinos, that there will be one in Armstrong County. However, gambling was legalized in Pennsylvania in 2009. Now the legislature has expanded it in 2017. So looking at the future, we should have some permitted uses in the township for a gambling house.”

East Franklin doesn’t need to get in a hurry, according to Pascal, since Armstrong County has been left out of the gambling expansion.

East Franklin Township supervisors heard from Solicitor Ty Heller, Zoning Officer Greg McKelvey, and several members of the public at last Thursday night’s public meeting. (KP File Photo)