The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board finally awarded the second and final resort casino license last month, to the Nemacolin Woodlands resort in rural Fayette County, about 60 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.
The resort-class, or Category 3, license authorizes the addition of up to 600 slot machines and 50 table games to an existing hotel. The license is one of only two available; the other one was awarded previously to the Valley Forge Convention Center hotel.
Nemacolin Woodlands, owned by the family of Joe Hardy, the flamboyant, 88-year-old billionaire who owns 84 Lumber, won out over three rival applicants. Hardy is partnering with Isle of Capri Casinos, which will build and operate the casino, to carry the Lady Luck brand.
The losing applicants were the Mason-Dixon Resort, representing the second attempt by businessman David LeVan to create a casino near the historic Gettysburg battlefield; the Fernwood Resort in the Pocono Mountains region in the eastern part of the state; and a motel just west of Harrisburg, which would have added recreational vehicles to its parking lot to meet the requirement that Category 3 casinos have at least 275 rooms.
Despite extensive public hearings, contentious campaigns for and against the Gettysburg project, and several delays in the board’s decision, Nemacolin won easily, with six of the seven board members voting for it. The sole differing vote was for Fernwood.
The 2,000-acre Nemacolin Woodlands is a popular resort, carrying both the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star rating and the AAA Four Diamond rating. Its 335-room hotel was rated as one of the 500 Best Hotels in the World by Travel & Leisure magazine. The casino will join attractions that include golf, tennis, spas, restaurants and lounges.
The Lady Luck Nemacolin casino will initially include 600 slots, 28 table games, a lounge and a casual dining restaurant. Isle of Capri will fund the $50 million project, to be complete within nine months of the start of construction. That will have to wait for the formal license. (Losing applicants have 30 days in which to file a legal challenge to the license award.)
Isle of Capri Casinos CEO Virginia McDowell, in an interview with Global Gaming Business, said she is happy to be partnered with the Hardy family.
“The Hardy family has never had a partner,” she said. “When they decided to bid on a gaming license, they realized they needed expertise they didn’t have, so they searched for a partner. We are very proud to have earned the trust of Joe Hardy and his family. We have a great working relationship and expect to make this a first-class casino.”
McDowell added that the existing building where the casino will be built lends itself to a quick and easy construction phase. “This is almost a ‘plug and play’ situation for us,” she said. “The building is wired for machines and other electronics and already has a kitchen, restaurant and bar. So the conversion to an Isle casino is not going to be complicated.”
As for the market, she says it is a prime location, an hour from a major city with 275,000 people living within 25 miles. “This is almost a market unto itself,” said McDowell. “We are very enthusiastic about the possibilities for business there, and have projected annual gaming revenues in the area of $68 million.”
It’s the second success for Isle in the past few months. Ground was recently broken in Cape Girardeau, Missouri for the Isle of Capri’s $125 million casino. That development will be completed late next year.