The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

July 6, 2013

RANDY GRIFFITH | Feeling lucky? Casino gambling less than 90 minutes away

JOHNSTOWN — What not too many years ago required a flight to Las Vegas – or at least a five-hour drive to Atlantic City – is now less than 90 minutes from downtown Johnstown at Lady Luck Nemacolin Casino in Fayette County.

Having never been to a Vegas or Atlantic City casino, I jumped at the chance to cover opening ceremonies for Pennsylvania’s newest casino last week at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort near Uniontown.

Guests exploring the massive gaming floor are greeted with the hallmark flashing lights and sounds from 600 slot machines, interspersed with cheers and groans from players at 28 gaming tables.

Two restaurants, live entertainment and a complimentary soft drink and coffee station keep the players fueled for what Lady Luck’s president and CEO, Virginia McDowell, emphasizes is the entertainment of gaming.

My only other casino experience was in Niagara Falls, Canada, some 15 years ago. So it was hard for me to fathom, standing at one of two table game areas – called “pigs” – that most of Pennsylvania’s 11 casinos have at least four times as many slot machines as Lady Luck.

The difference is that Lady Luck Nemacolin joins Valley Forge Casino Resort at King of Prussia as the state’s second casino with a Class 3 Resort license.

The resort class was included with Pennsylvania’s gaming legislation to allow existing resorts to provide new options, state gaming control board spokesman Doug Harbach said.

“These casinos are to be an amenity that build onto the rest of the resort,” Harbach said.

Size isn’t the only difference, either. By law, Lady Luck’s patrons must pay a membership fee if they aren’t guests at the nearby Nemacolin Resort hotels, townhouses, RV park or restaurants, Harbach said.

To be a considered a guest, gamblers must show they spent at least $10 at Nemacolin or show they were part of a conference, wedding or group function at the resort.

Memberships cost $45 a year, which includes discounts and special rates for some Nemacolin amenities.

You can also get in one day for $10 – and that comes with a $10 gift certificate for food, beverages, souvenirs or anything else at the multifaceted Nemacolin complex along Route 40 near Farmington.

For others who are not familiar with modern casinos, the image has changed from the old movies set in Vegas. Although many slot machines still have levers to pull, most players use the push buttons. The “wheels” are now digital images, and none of the machines take coins or pay out with change.

You can play for as little as a penny a “pull,” but the machines only take bills and payout in cash vouchers. So for a dollar you can play 100 times.

But the less you pay, the less you can win, they tell me.

Since I was working, I didn’t take time to try out any of the action, but a couple of the games looked interesting – especially for the western Pennsylvania audience. Big Buck Hunter includes an electronic rifle to shoot at video deer targets for the prize.

There is also a reality-television themed Pawn Stars machine.

Not unlike the ever-present surgeon general’s warnings on tobacco products, the gaming control board has prominent reminders about gambling addiction.

In fact, the first thing I noticed at the opening ceremony check-in tent was the huge banner “Press and Media,” with “Gambling Problem? Call

1-800-GAMBLER” emblazoned right below.

“I should resent that,” I told them.

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