Will a casino bring revitalization to Shippensburg Township and its neighboring communities, or is the proposed Parx Casino the end of a way of life in the western end of Cumberland County?
Both sides of the argument were in full view at a meeting Monday evening at which the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board sought public comment on a proposed mini-casino off of the King Street exit (exit 29) on Interstate 81.
The gaming control board will take comments through the week and will schedule a meeting at which the board will decide on the proposal.
Tony Ricci, chief executive officer of Greenwood Gaming and Entertainment, owners of Parx Casino in Bensalem Township, said that facility with its multiple restaurants, entertainment center and more than 2,000 employees has been the top casino in the state since opening in December 2006.
“We’re on the cusp of something new and exciting in our state with category 4 casinos that we can bring maybe on a smaller scale, but the same type of success story to Shippensburg Township,” Ricci said.
Parx Casino would be on about 10 acres of land at 777 Cramer Road in Shippensburg Township, and feature about 475 slot machines and 40 gaming tables alongside a sports bar and restaurant. The 65,000-square-foot facility would be centered in the property and surrounded by 500 parking spaces.
Ricci said the casino would also offer a sports book for betting on professional and college sports.
The project would create about 630 construction jobs, and 320 permanent jobs, with a priority placed on locals, Ricci said.
“We prioritize local residents for hiring and also local businesses for vendor selection to ensure that not only we but our community grows together with us,” he said.
Shippensburg Township and Cumberland County would see about $1.8 million per year in local share funds from the casino, Ricci said.
Ricci also said there would be $81 million of economic benefit generated during the construction phase with another $74 million in annual economic benefit to the state after the casino is up and running.
In 2017, municipalities were given the choice of opting out of allowing a casino to be built within their borders. Shippensburg Township supervisors discussed their options, and unanimously decided not to opt out, said Steve Oldt, Shippensburg Township supervisor.
“We felt we had land zoned industrial at exit 29, Interstate 81, and that could be a possible location for a mini-casino. The location seemed ideal because it was right at the interstate, it was zoned industrial and [had] no residential development,” he said.
He said a $3.5 million road work project is underway that will relocate Cramer Road and install traffic lights at the intersection of Cramer and Walnut Bottom roads as well as the two exits for Interstate 81 that are nearby.
The supervisors also said there are positive financial benefits by attracting new shops and businesses to the township as well as providing additional funds to the township that could allow property taxes to be lowered, Oldt said.
The casino is expected to generate an additional $500,000 in total property taxes, Ricci said.
“We also believe the additional financial benefit would help us better fund our volunteer first responders, both fire and EMS,” Oldt said.
Those first responders, though expressing support for the project, said the casino will add to their already heavy load.
“Although the casino itself is in the township, the added weight on the borough could be significant,” said Chief Meredith A. Dominick of the Shippensburg Police Department
The casino could be a “wonderful thing,” she said, and she’s hopeful it would bring revitalization to the area, including the borough. That will bring an added burden to her department, which provides assistance to Shippensburg University, Pennsylvania State Police barracks in Carlisle and Chambersburg and other municipalities.
“Because we are stretched with resources and manpower, I am afraid as the call demand increases, we will not be able to provide the police services that we should,” she said.
Oldt and Shippensburg Mayor Kathy Coy mentioned briefly in their comments to the board that discussions on a potential intermunicipal police force to address increased service requests have already begun.
Paul White of West End Fire and Rescue said the impact of the proposed facility is unknown, but that the company anticipates an more calls due to increased traffic and the number of patrons frequenting the facility.
“Although we welcome this new business to our community, our main concern and prediction is that this will have a negative impact on our already decreasing attendance at fundraising events,” White said.
White, along with representatives from other emergency services, asked casino representatives to provide funding to meet their challenges.
“We are looking forward with excitement on the possibility of future additional financial support through the gaming operations we are discussing,” said John Byers of Vigilant Hose Company.
Company volunteers spend more than 6,000 hours a year on fundraisers that provide 60 percent of their budget, a time commitment that Byers said is more than triple the company’s call and training hours.
Local nonprofits cited the potential for increased need for services stemming from the casino’s opening, ranging from increased need for financial assistance for housing, utilities, child care and food to greater needs for mental health and domestic violence services, among other services.
“As providers of human services programs for the Shippensburg area, we are asking for attention to the increased need for funding and support for human services programs for the life of the casino,” said Laura Masgalas, community mobilizer with Shippensburg Community Resource Coalition.
Jim Rogers, pastor of the Shippensburg First Church of God, said the people of Shippensburg simply do not want the casino.
“Any of the possible financial resources that may come to human services because of their presence will be absorbed because of the increased need. Rather than asking the casino for money to meet the increased need, how about we just don’t have the casino?” he said.
Janet Rose, president of the Shippensburg Civic Club, talked about the effect of gambling on Atlantic City and in other areas, citing decreased property values and lack of development of nongaming businesses nearby.
“People who run casinos do not encourage patrons to wander out in the neighborhood. It is designed to be an all-absorbing environment that does not release customers until they have exhausted their money,” she said.
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