For a little taste of everything, check out Central Pennsylvania. You’ll find:
- City living, with a small-town feel, in the state’s capital city.
- Acres of farmland nearby.
- A craft brew scene so intense that a community college offers a nine-month course leading to an internship with a local brewer and a certificate in brewing science.
- A sense of history, from colonial style architecture to the site of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address.
“It’s a great place to live,” says Lawrance Binda, editor-in-chief and co-founder of The Burg, a community magazine available in print and online.
“There’s a lot of variety of types of living you can have, from city to small town to country,” adds Binda, who lived in New York City and Washington, D.C. before moving to Harrisburg about 10 years ago. “And (it’s) not expensive. Sometimes, I’m surprised that more people don’t live here.”
Get to know Harrisburg
Harrisburg lies between Pennsylvania’s two major cities – 110 miles west of Philadelphia and 205 miles east of Pittsburgh. Baltimore is 80 miles south, and New York City is 170 miles northeast.
The region includes Hershey, hometown of the chocolate magnate who developed a worldwide snack company; Gettysburg, site of the Civil War’s bloodiest battle; Carlisle, home to the U.S. Army War College; and a slice of Amish country, where many farm families still adhere to an 1800s lifestyle.
Central Pennsylvania offers a unique appeal to anyone looking to move to the state to take advantage of the impending launch of a legal online poker and other casino games.
The state approved full-fledged Internet gaming late last year, and most of the 12-land based casinos are expected to launch online operations this year. Pennsylvania joins New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada as the only states with legal online casino gaming. It is by far the most populous of the four, which should lead to a good variety of poker offerings. Online gamblers must be in the state to play. You don’t have to be a resident, but for players thinking about moving, this is a quick guide to what you’ll find in and around Harrisburg.
The casino scene
Reflecting the lack of urban centers between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Central Pennsylvania has only one land-based casino: Hollywood at Penn National, which is just outside Harrisburg: 777 Hollywood Blvd., Grantville, PA 17028.
Hollywood has a 17-table poker room, 58 other table games, and 2,317 slot machines, according to the Gaming Control Board’s January report. Hollywood also has a thoroughbred race track.
Maryland Live! Casino in Baltimore is about two hours from Harrisburg. In January, Hollywood’s operator, Mountainview Thoroughbred Racing Association, paid $50.1 million for a license to build a satellite casino about 50 miles south of Harrisburg and about 20 miles from the Maryland border. Hollywood outbid other casinos for the first satellite license even though it had sued the state over the law allowing the smaller casinos. The suit, which is pending in federal court, says that because Hollywood is the only casino in its section of the state, it is less protected from competition than other casinos are.
Living in Central Pennsylvania
Harrisburg has 49,160 residents, according to 2016 Census estimates; about 550,00 people live in the three-county metro area. Sperling’s Best Places says Harrisburg’s cost of living is about 15 percent below the national average; the Tax Foundation says $100 spent in Harrisburg has the purchasing power of $103 spent elsewhere.
- Housing costs: Zillow.com says the median home value in Harrisburg is $71,600. The median rent is $872 in the city is $872 per month, compared with a median of $1,150 throughout the metro area. For a neighborhood guide, check out this, compiled by WebPageFX, an Internet marketing agency based in Harrisburg.
- Food: A slice of shoofly pie is practically mandatory on a trip to Amish Country. Made with molasses and brown sugar and frequently topped with whipped cream, it’s sure to satisfy any sweet tooth. It supposedly got its name because the molasses and brown sugar attracted flies as the pie cooled, forcing cooks to have to shoo them away. Another treat is the Stroopie, short for the Dutch “stroopwafel:” a cinnamon cookie made on a waffle iron and containing a layer of homemade caramel inside.
- Schools: Penn State has its Milton S. Hershey Medical Center College of Medicine in Hershey, its Dickinson Law School in Carlisle and a branch campus in Harrisburg. The main Penn State campus is in State College, about 90 miles from Harrisburg. Dickinson College in Carlisle, chartered in 1793 as the first college in the newly recognized United States, has about 2,300 students and is one of the top producers of Fulbright scholars.
- Weather: Summers can be hot and muggy, while winters can be cold and snowy. Binda says Harrisburg area winters tend to be milder than those in Pittsburgh.
- Getting around: More than 90 percent of Harrisburg workers drive, although Capital Area Transport runs bus service in the city and to outlying areas. Walkscore.com gives Harrisburg a “very walkable” score of 73 out of 100.
- Major employers: Not surprisingly, the government – both state and federal – is the largest employer in Pennsylvania’s capital city. Penn State’s Hershey Medical Center, with 11,145 employees, is next on the list, according to the Capital Region Economic Development Corp. Hershey Co. is another major employer, and Amazon has several fulfillment centers in Carlisle.
Things to do in Central Pennsylvania besides gambling
- Sports: The Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League are the Washington Capitals’ top farm team, and the Harrisburg Senators are a Double-A affiliate of MLB’s Washington Nationals. Binda says residents’ allegiances to nationally known teams are about evenly split between those in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
- History: The Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center, on the grounds of the battle that changed the course of the Civil War, includes a mammoth circular “Cyclorama” of scenes from the fight. The capitol in Harrisburg, built in 1906 to replace one destroyed by fire, is filled with hand-painted murals and other artwork, including stained glass, statuary and mosaic tiles. It’s topped by a 272-foot dome.
- Culture: The Harrisburg Symphony, formed with the help of the Julliard Foundation of New York City in 1930, performs seven “masterworks” concerts of classical music and four pop concerts each year. The Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) museum in Hershey has more than 150 vehicles, including an 1895 Chicago Motor Benton Harbor, a 1935 Autocar Atlantic Tank Truck, and a pair of rare 1917 Pierce Arrows.
- Taxes: The city wage tax is 2 percent for residents – a 1.5 percent city tax and 0.5 percent school tax; non-residents who work in the city pay a local income tax set by their municipality, typically 1 percent. The local wage is in addition to the state’s 3.07 percent income tax. The sales tax is the state-set 6 percent, a point less than in Pittsburgh’s Allegheny County and two points less than in Philadelphia; food and clothing are exempt from sales tax.
- 3rd in the Burg: A variety of Harrisburg galleries, restaurants, bars and other venues celebrate the arts in on the third Friday of each month. The “3rd in the Burg” series, sponsored by The Burg magazine, features exhibits, musical and theatrical performances, comedy and lectures, plus restaurant and bar specials. A free shuttle van takes festival-goers to sites throughout Downtown and Midtown.
- Eating fresh: Harrisburg’s Broad Street Market, founded in 1860, is the country’s oldest continuously operated farmers market. It is open Thursday through Saturday, featuring almost 40 vendors of local-origin produce, meats, baked goods and fresh meals.
- Where there’s a will: Harrisburg became Pennsylvania’s third capital city in 1812, following the original choice of Philadelphia and then Lancaster in 1799. Binda says the will of John Harris Jr., the son of the city’s founder, set aside four acres for the commonwealth if Harrisburg was named the capital. Harris Jr. died in 1791.
For more on the PA gambling scene, be sure to read our other guides: