Winning bid tossed in Pennsylvania casino license auction

Las Vegas Sands Corp. submitted the highest bid Wednesday in an auction for the rights to Pennsylvania's fourth mini-casino license, but gambling regulators invalidated it because the casino giant picked a location that is too close under state law to another prospective casino site.

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board said it would meet Thursday to consider the second-highest bid in the auction, submitted by suburban Philadelphia's Parx Casino, which is controlled by London-based businessman Watche Manoukian.

Las Vegas Sands, which owns Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem, had bid nearly $9.9 million and selected a site in Hempfield Township in northwestern Pennsylvania's Mercer County.

Under last year's state law authorizing the gaming board to auction 10 new mini-casino licenses, the winner of each auction must select a prospective site that comes with a 15-mile buffer zone. The casino can be built anywhere within that zone.

However, the buffer zone around Las Vegas Sands' selected site overlapped with the one selected by Mount Airy Casino Resort's owner, who won the third auction two weeks ago.

Mini-casinos can operate up to 750 slot machines and license holders can pay $2.5 million more to operate 30 table games. Bids are limited for now to the owners of Pennsylvania's 11 casino licenses that allow holders to operate up to 5,000 slot machines and 250 table games.

The first three licenses raised $112 million for casinos, one in south-central Pennsylvania's York County and one each in western Pennsylvania's Westmoreland and Lawrence counties.

Pennsylvania-based Penn National Gaming won the first mini-casino license last month, bidding $50 million to put one in an area of south-central Pennsylvania that includes the city of York. A Baltimore-based developer that's building a casino in Philadelphia's stadium district won the second license, bidding $40 million to put up a casino in Westmoreland County, outside Pittsburgh.