Nittany Mall

The Nittany Mall on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020 in State College, Pa.

Enter the grounds of Nittany Mall and you might be struck by the sheer emptiness of it all. Especially to those of us who grew up going to shiny shopping malls, the relative nothingness of Nittany Mall conjures feelings more suited for the uncanny valley than Happy Valley.

This is why Bally's decision to build a mini-casino in the remnants of Macy's former spot just might be the perfect way to dispel the haunted look and feel invoked by Nittany Mall.

With the location announced last week, the project costs an estimated $120 million and is slated to start production later this year. A grand opening is scheduled to arrive about a year afterward. 

It's no secret that the Nittany Mall operates as a struggling institution, thoroughly declawed and neutered. Rather than letting the mall flounder and succumb to oblivion, or suffer the admittedly bombastic death of demolition, perhaps its shell can be instead repurposed and reconfigured. And Bally's planned revamp provides the perfect opportunity to inject and infuse some fresher blood into the venue.

Pennsylvania only counts twelve casinos in its boundaries, making them a rare species in the Keystone State. By opening up another den of gambling in our backyard, State College is poised to benefit from exhibiting such a rarity. Novelty sells, after all. And the novel ability to try slot machines or wager at real-life sportsbooks could attract the old and young alike. 

Of course, we're still in the gruesome midst of a pandemic. Even if Bally's casino were to open up first thing tomorrow, the full economic impact and value of the project would not be fully realized until the pandemic itself simmers down. Hopefully, however, by the time Bally's doors swing open for business, something resembling normalcy becomes the norm and the community could begin benefitting from the flood of cash and tourism to the fullest extent. 

The tourism angle further validates the mini-casino and its existence. Stop a random Penn Stater in the streets and there exists a 50/50 chance that they will know the most famous statistic this side of Old Main: when Beaver Stadium roars during football games at full capacity, the stadium becomes the third most densely-populated city in the state. While the figure impresses, it also ignores the follow-up question: Where have all the crowds gone once football season concludes? 

If State College wishes to keep the streak of increased population density, a casino is certainly one of the better ways to start. Tourists usually carry their wallets around, especially if they're en route to a place as awash in cash (and opportunities to spend cash) as your average casino. With more tourists come more economic activities, and with more economic activity, comes further economic growth and development. 

Gambling, like any other activity, is prone to misuse and overuse. But as long as the vice continues to be legal, State College might as well glean some benefit from Bally’s $120 million gamble. 

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David Tilli is the opinion editor at The Daily Collegian. He is a senior majoring in digital and print journalism and labor and employment relations.