Pennsylvania Judge Rules Bally’s State College Casino Project Can Be Appealed

A Pennsylvania judge today rejected an application for a stay from the businesses backing the Bally’s State College casino venture. Another casino operator is contesting the legality of permitting the project to move forward.

Old Main at Penn State University. If former Penn State trustee Ira Lubert gets his way, a Bally’s casino will be coming to a retail center within five miles of Pennsylvania’s biggest university, located in State College, Pa. (Image: Getty)

Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court President Judge Emerita Bonnie Brigance Leadbetter dismissed the appeal from SC Gaming OpCo, LLC, and its manager, Ira Lubert, after concluding that the appeal filed on behalf of The Cordish Companies was valid.

Cordish, a Baltimore-based developer and operator of casinos, hospitality, and entertainment complexes, works in Pennsylvania as Stadium Casino RE, LLC.

Cordish lawyers argue that Lubert infringed upon state bidding regulations for the Category 4 license that was awarded to his SC Gaming OpCo. Lubert and his development partners have refused these claims and asked the commonwealth court to dismiss the Cordish appeal of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) in January, which approved the Bally’s State College casino plan.

Case Continues

Cordish operates two land-based casinos in Pennsylvania—Live! Casino Hotel Philadelphia and Live! Casino Pittsburgh in Westmoreland. The company had intended to run a third casino in the state with a second Cat. 4 property to accompany Live! Pittsburgh.

However, during the state’s September 2020 auction round, Cordish was outbid by Lubert’s bid of slightly more than $10 million. Lubert opted for College Township near Penn State University’s main campus for his so-called “mini-casino.”

Shortly after winning the auction, Lubert declared an ownership, development, and operating partnership with Rhode Island-based Bally’s Corporation and several individual investors. The combined group has presented the PGCB a $123 million blueprint, including the licensing fee, to renovate a former Macy’s department store at the Nittany Mall into a Bally’s casino.

Cordish’s grievances are related to the firm’s belief that Lubert and his colleagues had pre-arranged their ownership arrangement before the September 2020 auction round. Only companies that held active slot licenses in the state or key investors who own substantial shares in a slot concession had qualified to bid on the Category 4 satellites.

Cordish also insists that Lubert did not solely pay the $10,000,101 licensing fee he proposed during the auction, another stipulation of the state’s 2017 gaming expansion law.

The local community in College Township is strongly opposed to allowing a casino to open so near the PSU campus. The PGCB said it received 773 written comments about the proposed casino, with only 101 in support of the project.

Cordish Expansion

Cordish is much more than a gaming operator. The company bills itself as “the country’s largest and most successful developer of mixed-use districts.” Along with casinos, Cordish is engaged in commercial real estate, coworking spaces, entertainment districts, hotels, restaurants, residential, and private equity.

Cordish told the Louisiana Gaming Control Board this week that it has more than $1 billion in projects currently under construction. Cordish recently agreed to purchase the defunct Diamond Jacks riverboat casino in Bossier City, La., for an undisclosed sum.

Cordish is growing its gaming presence to the Bayou State but wants another asset in Pennsylvania, which is now the second-most lucrative gaming state in the US behind Nevada. Cordish has not revealed where it desired to establish another Cat. 4 casino should it have been the highest bidder in September 2020.

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