PLAINS TWP. — The area’s United Way leader, a Plains Township commissioner, Leadership Wilkes-Barre’s director and state law enforcement officials struck a resounding theme Thursday.
One by one they publicly praised how Mohegan Sun operates its casino and associated attractions in Plains Township. Their testimony will be a major influence on the decision the state Gaming Control Board will make in the coming months when it decides whether to renew the Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs casino license for another three years.
During the state-mandated triennial renewal hearing in the township’s municipal building, members of the state Gaming Control Board and staff heard reasons why the casino’s license should be approved for another three years.
Members of the public also were given the chance to offer reasons why the casino’s license should not be renewed. No one spoke out against the casino.
Casino officials gave reasons, supported by data, that they’ve met the obligations of its original casino license and showed what improvements have been made since the last renewal hearing was conducted in 2009. Since then, the casino added 84 table games, held a variety of events, concerts and festivals and began construction of a $50 million, 238-room hotel.
There also have been incidents involving liquor that have led to the casino’s liquor license that was set for renewal last August to be put on hold. The casino is operating on a temporary liquor license, according to the venue’s President and General Manager Mike Bean.
The liquor issues were raised by Melissa M. Powers, assistant enforcement counsel with the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. Many of her questions were regarding criminal incidents at the casino, underage gaming, blacklisted players, compulsive gambling, training of staff and other regulatory issues.
Sgt. Michael McTavish, commander of the state police station based inside the Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs Casino, noted incidents of crime at the casino have decreased 15 percent from 2011 to 2012 and said the security procedures in place at the facility, coupled with the staff itself, has helped reduce crime.
The casino has been cited twice for underage gaming since its license was last renewed, and the establishment has been fined $127,000 for it. But the incidents are relatively low, McTavish said. He credited the casino staff and design for that.
Jay Berthelsen, senior supervisor with the Gaming Control Board’s Bureau of Casino Compliance, said the casino has been “100 percent compliant.”
Matthew Loughney, an agent with the state’s Bureau of Enforcement and Investigation, began investigating the casino’s license renewal application in the fall and said he found no area of interest or concern.
Doug Harbach, a spokesman for the state gaming control board, said the testimony and comments will be the basis for a decision by the full board. It will make a public vote on renewal at a future public meeting, probably this summer, in Harrisburg, he said.
Bill Jones, the president of United Way of Wyoming Valley, spent nearly five minutes praising Mohegan Sun, calling it “one of the most community-minded corporate citizens in Northeastern Pennsylvania.”
Kara Fox-LaRose, assistant general manager at Mohegan Sun, showed a PowerPoint presentation that included numerous pages of community groups that the casino has aided. They totalled more than 540 and received a share of more than $2 million since the casino opened in 2006.
That’s on top of the $480 million in slot and table games taxes paid to the state and the more than $75 million in funds that have gone into the local share grant program that enables projects throughout Luzerne County to compete for about $12 million in annual funding generated by slot machines.
Lori Nocito, the director of Leadership Wilkes-Barre, and Ron Filippini, the chairman of the Plains Township commissioners, also spent time lauding the casino’s local impact, speaking of job creation, local purchases, boosting tourism and answering the call when board members are needed for area organizations, of which casino employees serve on 20.