Casino's impact seen as minimal
By KECIA BAL
A new study emphasizes that Seven Springs Mountain Resort's plans for a 500 slot-machine casino would cater mostly to existing clientele and would not radically transform the resort or the countryside that surrounds it.
"This is not going to change who we are or what our guests have come to love about Seven Springs," resort President Scott Bender said. "And, because it's an additional amenity to our guests, we do not anticipate many issues, or even a lot of change."
Seven Springs is one of two resorts in the state that have applied for two available $5 million licenses designated for resorts. If both prove eligible, each should gain a license.
The casino would "supplement existing attractions and facilities on a site, as opposed to being the primary attraction," according to a local impact report required for a license through the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. The law that created the licenses dictates that slots users at a resort must either be overnight guests or visitors who also are spending money - at least $25 - elsewhere at the resort.
"For now, we don't see a lot of problems," Bender said. "We already accommodate more than 1 million visitors a year."
The study focuses mostly on transportation systems.
Other than suggestions for eventually placing a few extra stop signs and signals at a dozen or so intersections, the study does not indicate that major roadway changes are necessary.
"Of course, we are concerned about roads, both on and off the casino," Bender said. "We've been working with the (state) Department of Transportation both regionally and statewide for the past 10 years to find methods of improving roads."
The study's project manager, Larry Bankert of Pennoni Associates Inc., referred questions to Bender.
Officials say that significant tax revenue and economic growth would stem from a casino at the resort, which already is among the largest area employers.
"From our standpoint, it's an opportunity to reap some economic benefits," Somerset County Commissioner Brad Cober said.
About one-third of revenues are marked for state coffers, though legislation that created the licenses in 2004 would require Seven Springs to direct 2 percent of revenues to the county or county authorities for economic-development and community-improvement projects.
The legislation also includes wording that could mean double the percentage for the county. Because Seven Springs is located in its own incorporated municipality, the local share cannot go to Seven Springs Borough, the law states.
That would make the county's annual share more than $1 million, based on a conservative estimate from the state Department of Revenue. The department reviewed slot-machine numbers for surrounding states that show each slot machine should garner at least $150 daily.
"There would be some generous revenues available," Cober said.
Because the revenue is intended to fund economic development, one obvious possibility is helping fund the financially burdened Somerset County Economic Development Council, Cober added. The council may have to rely on reserve funds to cover a $22,000 shortfall for its 2006 budget.
"We're not promoting gambling - that's a moral issue," Cober said. "But we are supporting jobs and economic development."
Development council President Tom Reilly agreed.
"I'm certainly in support of (more jobs and economic growth)," he said.
Initial studies have shown that a slot-machine casino and related amenities would create as many as 350 jobs, more than 40 percent of the resort's 800 current off-season positions.
Gaming control board officials plan to post the local impact report online this week at www.pgcb.state.pa.us.
The control board is to conduct hearings on the slots licenses and will be at Hidden Valley Four Seasons Resort on May 3 to hear comments on the Seven Springs application.
The resort also has filed initial paperwork for a proposed 22,500-square-foot casino to be built onto the west end of the main lodge, which is used mostly for conferences.
"We have to be conscious of two kinds of guests," Bender said. "One of the things guests like most about us is that everything is under one roof. This will be in keeping with that concept. But, also, it will be separated enough that the visitors who don't want to be near the casino can enjoy our other attractions without walking through the casino."
Details on a planned casino if Seven Springs is awarded a slots license:
Casino would be built onto the west end of the existing main lodge/conference center.
It would be an octagon-shaped, 22,500-square-foot addition to Festival Hall.
Casino would include a bar and food court.
Source: Minor land-development plan filed with the Somerset County Planning Commission