HERMITAGE — For a few hours in February of 2018, business and political leaders in Mercer County thought that a casino might be headed their way.
Those hopes, since dashed, have risen once again.
The city of Hermitage, the Shenango Valley Chamber of Commerce and the VisitMercerCountyPA tourism agency are working together to entice a gaming business to pursue a casino license for the city. The state Gaming Control Board will hold a Category 4 mini-casino license auction on Sept. 2.
“We decided it was worth putting our name out there,” said Hermitage City Manager Gary Hinkson.
The three entities produced a full-color, four-page brochure promoting the potential advantages of building a mini-casino in Hermitage. Shenango Valley Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Sherris Moreira said the group sent brochures to entities likely to bid on the casino license.
Those advantages, listed in the brochure, include a location near three interstate highways — 79, 80 and 376 — six million visitors a year and 1.6 million residents within a 45-mile radius of the city.
Hinkson said a mini-casino could be part of Hermitage’s Town Center development, which is in the design stages. The development would be centered around the Shenango Valley Mall’s current site at North Hermitage Road and East State Street and would include shopping, dining and entertainment businesses, along with residential and recreational space.
“We thought it might be a nice addition to the Town Center project,” Hinkson said.
Hermitage officials have been disappointed before in the pursuit of a mini casino. Sands, which operated a full-scale casino in eastern Pennsylvania, won a license bid in February of 2018, for a mini casino that would likely have been located in Hermitage. But the Gaming Control Board invalidated the Sands bid on a technicality.
Gaming Control Board rules require bidders to submit a territorial center point, with the actual casino to be located anywhere within a 15-mile radius. However, Sands cited a center point that forced its territory to encroach on the area controlled by Mt. Airy Casino, which won a previous round of bidding.
Mt. Airy’s center point was in Hickory Township, Lawrence County, but the casino operator quickly announced plans to build in Beaver County near the Pennsylvania Turnpike and Interstate 376. The Gaming Control Board rejected Mt. Airy’s casino application last year, and that project is apparently dead.
Hinkson said Hermitage, the chamber and the travel promotion agency are putting a little money on the table in a gamble that could pay off big.
“Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” he said. “That’s kind of how I’m looking at it.”
Moreira said she was dedicated to collaborating with Shenango Valley communities and said she saw an opportunity to help with economic development.
She agreed with Hinkson that promoting Hermitage as a potential mini-casino location was worth the effort.
“If we don’t try anything, nothing happens,” Moreira said. “You have to try all kind of things to see what happens.”
Follow Eric Poole on Facebook and Twitter @HeraldEricPoole. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org