Penn State University Staying Clear of Nittany Mall Casino Discussion

Penn State University’s Board of Trustees will not take a formal stance on whether it supports or opposes a proposed casino for the nearby Nittany Mall in College Township, Pa.

Old Main at Penn State University in University Park, Pa. Penn State’s Board of Trustees says it will not take a formal position on the merits of allowing a casino to come near the university at the Nittany Mall. (Image: Onward State)

During the school board’s budget meeting last week at the Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center, Trustee Chair Matthew Schuyler, a Penn State alum who is the chief brand officer for Hilton, addressed the casino issue.

Schuyler said the board had received hundreds of emails and letters regarding Bally’s plan to spend $123 million to transform the former Macy’s department store at the Nittany Mall into a casino with as many as 750 slot machines, 30 table games, and a sportsbook.

“Understanding the unique and important role the university plays in the local community, we appreciate that residents are voicing their diverse opinions on this topic,” Schuyler said as the meeting began last Thursday.

“The proposed casino is planned for a property in College Township, but it is otherwise not associated with Penn State University,” Schuyler explained. “The board of trustees does not have a stance on this project, nor does the board have a means to promote or stop the development of a private, legal operation that has been approved by local and state officials.”

State Matter, Not University

Penn State is the largest college in Pennsylvania. Though it’s located in a rather remote part of the state, State College becomes the state’s third most populated city during college football weekends when Beaver Stadium accommodates more than 100,000 fans.

The university’s board has governance on the main campus, but its influence extends throughout Centre County. But when it comes to whether casino gambling should be allowed in the community, the trustees are leaving it up to local elected officials and the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB).

Decisions regarding whether a casino can be opened are made by local municipalities and the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. And there are mechanisms in place for individuals to share their opposition to — or support of — this private endeavor with these decision-making entities,” Schuyler continued.

The trustee chair concluded by saying the board remains focused on assisting the university and its students with teaching, research, outreach missions, and campus safety.

Penn State alum and former trustee Ira Lubert is involved with the Bally’s State College plan. Lubert secured the Category 4 casino license during the PGCB’s September 2020 auction round. Lubert qualified to bid because he holds a 3% stake in Rivers Casino Pittsburgh.

Lubert later partnered with Bally’s for the Nittany Mall casino.

Council Mulls Options

College Township councilors in 2019 opted not to withdraw the town’s candidacy in being considered for a Category 4 casino. The local government seems to regret that decision now.

Fielding hundreds of letters in opposition to Bally’s casino plan, the township says it’s considering writing its own letter to the PGCB urging the state board to deny the project a gaming license. The township is also considering conducting a comprehensive review of what sort of negative societal impact a casino would have on the college community.

Penn State’s campus is less than two miles from where Bally’s hopes to open its casino. The PGCB is to next meet on October 19.

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