If Penn National Gaming’s proposed $111 million Hollywood Casino Morgantown gets approved, there’s no doubt it will alter rural Caernarvon Township, say those who live and work there.
Wyomissing-based Penn National Gaming filed an application last week to build an 80,000-square-foot casino on a 36-acre plot of vacant land.
The casino would feature 750 slot machines, 30 table games, a full-sports betting lounge, plus room for 10 more table games. Other amenities include a restaurant, entertainment lounge and food court.
The proposed casino is near three main arteries: the Morgantown exit on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, Interstate 176 and Route 10 or the Morgantown Expressway.
“I think it will be something that provides a reason for people to come to our community, rather than passing through the community,” said Allen Styer III, chairman of the Caernarvon Township board of supervisors.
The small township with a population of about 4,000 is spread out over a mix of farmland, woodland and small towns. Morgantown, its main business district, is on Route 23, near the Morgantown exit.
“Overall, I feel that it is going to be positive change for the Twin Valley area. I think in the long run, it’s going to increase our value in the Twin Valley School District area. It’s going to bring more jobs, that’s for sure,” said Bonnie Eshelman, a Realtor with Remax Reading in Wyomissing.
“In the short term, I think people may hesitate because it’s change, but they’ll turn around quickly,” she said.
Eshelman, who likes to visit the Hollywood Casino in Dauphin County and the Sands in Bethlehem, said she’ll probably patronize the new casino and play the slots once it’s built.
Penn National said the casino would create 250 new jobs and 275 construction jobs.
“People here pretty much all work, but the type of jobs the casino would provide are most likely better-paying jobs than we have here,” Styer said.
“Most of those who have good-paying jobs travel east on the turnpike and work down towards Philadelphia,” he said.
With a casino in the township, maybe now they can finally attract a restaurant that serves alcohol, Styer said.
“The one thing we get a lot of complaints about in our township. We don’t have a fancy, sit-down restaurant that serves alcohol,” Styer said.
“For a year, the board and I tried to draw at least one restaurant, like a Longhorn or Texas Roadhouse. They’re not even interested. We don’t have enough people to support one. We’re hoping if we can draw more outsiders, they’re going to build up around the casino with restaurants like that that will benefit our community,” he said.
When Cabela’s, the national chain of outdoor sports and camping store, built a store in rural Hamburg more than a decade ago, it helped draw restaurants and other businesses in the surrounding area, Styer noted.
“Before Cabela’s, they never even had a chance in having all of that stuff,” he said.
The proposed casino site on Route 10 has been vacant and up for sale for years. It is currently being used as a staging area for trucks and equipment used by workers building the Keystone Pipeline, although they are expected to be leaving the area soon.
While getting a manufacturer to build on the site would add to the township’s tax base, Styer said, the casino is a better deal for the township because it will get two percent on slot machine revenues and one percent on table games.
“A large manufacturer doesn’t have to pay two percent on the product they sell,” he said.
“The only way you can raise revenue without raising taxes is if you have people from outside the community coming in and spending money in your community, then it’s less tax burden on your citizens,” he said.