Editor’s note: Pennsylvania recently legalized online poker and casino games. This is the next installment in a series of articles about the casinos in Pennsylvania and their possible place in the online gambling market.
Lady Luck Casino Nemacolin is one of a kind among PA casinos.
Unlike the others, it serves as an amenity to a much larger resort complex, the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. It is both the smallest casino in PA and the only one with a private airport.
Pittsburgh lumber entrepreneur Joseph Hardy purchased at a public auction in 1987, later transferring ownership to his daughter, Maggie Hardy-Magerko. In 2011, the group beat out three other contenders for the state’s final Category 3 casino license.
Lady Luck opened inside a repurposed entertainment center in July 2013. Operations were leased to Isle of Capri, which was subsequently acquired by Eldorado Resorts. Eldorado is a major player in the casino industry, but gambling is not really a focus for Nemacolin.
The 2,000-acre complex boasts AAA five-diamond food and accommodations, two premier golf courses, a conference center, pools, spas, a holistic health center, a pet resort and outdoor sports for all seasons. There’s a field club and a large wildlife academy — a zoo — too. Visitors can either drive in or land at Nemacolin Airport, which leads right to the front door. Lodging includes an array of hotels, suites and townhomes.
The world-class resort sprawls across some of PA’s most historic land, too. It’s located in Farmington, near the West Virginia/Maryland border at the southern edge of the Commonwealth. The Laurel Highlands region was a waypoint along one of the earliest east-west trails, predating even the founding of the country. “Nemacolin” comes from the name of the Delaware Nation chief who helped frontiersman carve the route into Ohio.
The trail was later expanded by General George Washington, then eventually paved into permanence as Route 40. Today, it runs through the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort and right past Lady Luck’s driveway.
Lady Luck is essentially a private casino, though the barriers to entry are low. There are three ways to gain access to the casino:
Lady Luck is the very smallest PA casino. The 70,000-square-foot gaming floor contains the maximum 600 slot machines for a Category 3 casino, plus 27 of the available 50 gaming tables.
Total gaming revenue for the 2016-17 fiscal year was just over $34 million, barely one percent of the industry total. About $17 million was paid back in taxes to local and state government. Those numbers are about half of the property’s initial projections.
Lady Luck is in an interesting spot when it comes to PA online gambling. At a glance, it would seem unlikely to explore, given the resort’s lukewarm appetite for casino operations in general.
Co-owner Eldorado Resorts, however, appears poised to plunge headlong into online gambling. It operates more than two dozen properties around the country, and it’s right in the middle of a big expansion. In April, the group agreed to lease operations of seven Tropicana Entertainment casinos, a $640 million investment with Gaming and Leisure Properties.
Tropicana Atlantic City is part of that deal, which gives Eldorado a position in New Jersey — another state with legal iGaming. It also operates three (soon to be five) properties in Nevada. Apart from Delaware, that’s every state with online gambling.
Curiously, Eldorado recently sold off its other PA casino, Presque Isle Downs & Casino. That creates at least some confusion over its plans in the Commonwealth, but there’s no reason to expect timidness in the market.
There’s also the outside chance that a third party, perhaps The Stars Group, could seek to leverage the property’s land-based casino license for some type of online gambling. A PokerStars product makes a lot of sense in PA, but a potential partnership is pure speculation at this point.
When Eldorado acquired operations of Tropicana AC, it presumably inherited its iGaming partnership with Gamesys. The original parties had a long-standing agreement dating back to the beginnings of NJ online casinos. Tropicana has been lurking near the bottom of NJ online casino revenue, but Gamesys does offer a polished and profitable platform.
It’s not exactly clear if the partnership remains intact or would be utilized, but it’s one potential solution for Eldorado.
Lady Luck is one of two PA properties operated by Eldorado, but it’s about to be the only one. The group has sold off its interest in Presque Isle, with the transaction expected to close later this year. When it does, Lady Luck will be on its own in PA.
Eldorado operates 20 (soon to be 19, then 26) casinos in 12 states. Again, though, it’s just too early to tell how they might interplay with each other in the virtual realm.
Past installments of this series: