Casino Investors Put Chips on RV Park Plan

August 13, 2010 by   - () 2 Comments

A group that wants to turn an ordinary Holiday Inn in Camp Hill, Pa., into a $75 million resort casino has an unusual marketing strategy — appealing to RV owners, who are seen as full of wanderlust and disposable income.

Penn Harris Gaming thinks its casino would appeal to what it calls an underserved population — folks who are often older or retired, but are well-heeled and who travel around the country in their large recreational vehicles looking for interesting places to visit, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

It may come as a surprise to some, but the Penn Harris group thinks the Harrisburg/Hershey/Carlisle/Lancaster area is just the type of tourist area that RVers would like to visit, see the sights and try their luck at roulette and poker tables and one-armed bandits. They said that annual car shows in Carlisle and Hershey draw thousands of car buffs and other visitors. Hershey also has Hershey Park resort, and Lancaster has traditional Amish farms.

The developers include the CMS equity and real estate firm, which owns the Holiday Inn on Route 11, about 10 miles west of Harrisburg. They would convert the motel into a 40,000-square-foot casino with 600 slots and 50 table games, plus restaurant/bar, spa, fitness center and “RV World,” a 6-acre parking area along Interstate 81. It’s behind the hotel, and it’s where drivers would park their RVs while gambling.

“We are not shooting for the high-roller market,” said Atlantic City gaming lawyer John Donnelly, one of the investors. “We are going for a middle-class market,” one that has considerable “discretionary income.”

RVs figure into the Penn Harris project in another way, too. Because the Holiday Inn has 239 rooms — and a resort hotel casino must, by state law, have at least 275 rooms — the motel is parking 36 spiffy new RVs just outside and calling them additional “rooms,” which overnight guests can stay in at slightly lower rates than renting a room inside the motel.

Some Las Vegas casinos, such as Circus Circus and Samstown, are already targeting the RV population, said Donnelly, who has done legal work for numerous casinos in the last 30 years, including The Rivers in Pittsburgh. This is his first venture as a casino investor.

Backers see central Pennsylvania as “underserved” by casinos, despite the Hollywood Casino at Penn National racetrack, with about 3,000 slots and numerous table games, being only 20 miles northeast of Harrisburg. Backers also like the Holiday Inn location, near I-81, I-83 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

The project still needs local permits and a license from the state Gaming Control Board, which has three other casino projects competing for the second and final Category 3 (resort hotel) gaming license. They include the Mason-Dixon Resort & Casino, at a site south of the Gettysburg National Military Park (which has sparked opposition from Civil War buffs); the Nemacolin Woodlands resort in Fayette County; and a resort hotel in the Poconos, which Donnelly argues would be hurt by an existing, larger casino in the Poconos.

He also contended that a resort casino at Nemacolin would be in “a remote location” and would “cannibalize the existing gaming market” of The Rivers and The Meadows racetrack/casino in Washington County.

Gaming board hearings are coming up for all four projects in late August and early September. All four say they would add to their local tax base, provide hundreds of new jobs and give the state revenue to further reduce property taxes and balance the state budget.

The final resort hotel license could be awarded by late this year.


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