From Peeps to peaks and from the Pocono 400 NASCAR race to a stretch of the Appalachian trail, Northeast Pennsylvania boasts a variety of reasons for setting up shop there.
“We are a suburb of nowhere, our own authentic place with unique cities and communities,” says Don Cunningham, president and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp., which serves the Bethlehem-Allentown area.
Janet Hall, executive director of Visit Luzerne County, touts her area’s location coupled with a low cost of living.
“You’re two hours from two major cities, Philly and New York, yet you’re not paying those type of prices,” she says. “You’ve got your big-city options with small-town pricing.”
For gamblers’ purposes, Northeast Pennsylvania includes a stretch of the Pocono Mountains, the Lehigh Valley encompassing Bethlehem and Allentown, and the Wyoming Valley area including Wilkes-Barre and Scranton. The mountains and rivers create breathtaking scenery, and the communities range from small town to the state’s third-largest metro area.
Get to know Northeast Pennsylvania
While the three areas are relatively close in distance, they are distinct from one another. Bethlehem, in the heart of the Lehigh Valley, is part of the state’s third most populous metro area. An hour away, tiny Mount Pocono Borough is in the middle of the mountain range that has attracted tourists for almost 200 years. Wilkes-Barre is a small city in the Wyoming Valley about an hour west of Mount Pocono.
Bethlehem and the Lehigh Valley gained fame as a major steel producing area, with Bethlehem Steel becoming the country’s largest shipbuilder and the provider of steel for the Hoover Dam, Empire State Building and Golden Gate Bridge. The plant closed in 1995 and now is the site of Sands Bethlehem casino. The city was founded in 1741 by Moravians, one of the oldest Protestant faiths, and named on Christmas Eve. Bethlehem remains a prime area for manufacturing, producing a variety of items, including medical devices, Martin guitars, and cell phone parts as well as specialty steel.
Wilkes-Barre, named for two members of the British Parliament who supported colonial America, is along the Susquehanna River in the Wyoming Valley, between the Pocono Mountains and the Endless Mountains. Once a center for coal mining, it has evolved into an area with a variety of businesses and industries and a what the city calls a “walk-to-everything lifestyle.”
Mount Pocono, elevation 1,980 feet, and the rest of Monroe Country have been a popular resort area since the 1820s. The Pocono Mountains became a honeymoon destination after World War II, with several resorts touting heart-shaped bathtubs. While those have closed, the area continues to attract tourists with skiing, golfing, and a NASCAR raceway.
Northeast 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, here’s a quick guide to what you’ll find in Northeast Pennsylvania.
The casino scene
Three casinos operate in the region:
- Sands: 77 Sands Blvd., Bethlehem, PA 18015, (877) 726-3777. Sands is the state’s No. 2 casino by revenue, and it far outperforms all others in table games. It has a 30-table poker room, 219 other table games, and 2,979 slot machines, according to February tallies by the Gaming Control Board. Sands Bethlehem includes a 300-room hotel, an events center, and an adjoining outlet mall. Las Vegas Sands agreed on March 9 to sell the casino to Wind Creek Hospitality, an affiliate of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians of Alabama, which operates nine gaming and entertainment facilities in the United States and the Caribbean. The $1.3 billion deal is expected to close late this year or early in 2019. LVS is owned by Sheldon Adelson, a leading opponent of online gaming, and the Bethlehem facility is the smallest in the Sands company. It would be the largest operation for Wind Creek.
- Mohegan Sun Pocono: 1280 Highway 315, Wilkes-Barre, PA 18702, (888) 946-4672. The first legal casino in Pennsylvania has an 18-table poker room, 73 other table games, and 2,332 slots. It also has a 238-room hotel and a harness-racing track.
- Mount Airy Casino Resort: 312 Woodland Road, Mount Pocono, PA 18344, (877) 682-4791. Mt. Airy has a nine-table poker room, 72 other table games, and 1,876 slot machines. It has a 188-room hotel and an 18-hole golf course.
Living in Northeast Pennsylvania
Bethlehem has 75,110 residents, according to 2016 Census estimates, and the two-county Lehigh Valley metro area has 659,312, trailing only the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh regions in Pennsylvania. Wilkes-Barre’s population is 40,964, and the three-county Scranton-Wilkes-Barre-Hazleton metro area population is 555,225. Mount Pocono borough, with 3,087 residents, is in Monroe County, population 167,126.
Sperling’s Best Places says Wilkes-Barre’s cost of living is 24 percent lower than the national average, while Bethlehem’s is about 6 percent below, and Mount Pocono’s is about 7.5 percent below. In all three areas, the relatively inexpensive cost of housing contributes to the lower cost of living.
- Bethlehem housing costs: Zillow.com says the median home value in Bethlehem is $262,500 and the median price of homes that sold is $281,500. The site estimates the median rent at $1,754 per month.
- Wilkes–Barre housing costs: Zillow says the median home value in Wilkes-Barre is $52,000 and estimates the median rent at $759 a month.
- Mount Pocono housing costs: Zillow says the median home value in Mount Pocono is $119,800 and estimates the median rent at $1,258 a month.
- Higher education: Lehigh University in Bethlehem is a private residential research university with about 7,000 students. Moravian College in Bethlehem, founded in 1742, is a liberal arts school with about 2,000 students. King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, nationally knows for its business school, is a liberal arts institution with about 2,300 students.
- Weather: Mount Pocono, which averages 57 inches of snow a year, naturally gets more snow than the two valley cities, which average around 34 inches. Summers are warm and humid in the valleys, comfortable but wet in the mountains.
- Major employers: Two health networks, Lehigh Valley and St. Luke’s University, are the biggest employers in the Bethlehem area. Just Born, the maker of Peeps, Mike and Ike candy, and other sweets, is headquartered in the Lehigh Valley, as is Crayola. In Luzerne County, home to Wilkes-Barre, the state and federal governments are the biggest employers, followed by health care facilities and Amazon fulfillment operations. Monroe County is home to Sanofi Pasteur, the country’s largest flu vaccine plant.
Things to do in Northeast Pennsylvania besides gambling
- Sports: The famed triangle-shaped Pocono Raceway track hosts NASCAR and Indy-style car races that attract crowds of 100,000-plus. It’s outside Long Pond., Pa., between Wilkes-Barre and Mount Pocono. The Wilkes-Barre area and the Lehigh Valley both support top-level minor league teams in baseball and hockey. The Wilkes-Barre-Scranton Penguins, the American Hockey League affiliate of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins, play at Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre, and the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, the Triple-A affiliate of the New York Yankees, play in nearby Moosic. The Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, a Triple-A team for the Philadelphia Phillies, and the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, the AHL affiliate of the NHl’s Philadelphia Flyers, both play in Allentown, near Bethlehem. The Poconos offer a variety of whitewater rafting, golfing, zip lines, hiking, skiing, and other outdoor activities. Much of the Pennsylvania portion of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area lies in Monroe County. Hiking, cross-country skiing and equestrian trails, fishing, interpretive programs, and 25 miles of the Appalachian Trail are in or around the recreation area.
- Culture: Bethlehem’s annual Musikfest, one of the largest festivals in the country, features more than 500 performances on 16 stages throughout Bethlehem over 10 days. The city also is home to the 111-year old Bach Festival, while the SteelStacks area, the country’s largest revitalized brownfield, hosts numerous festivals and concerts. In Wilkes-Barre, the F. M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts, a renovated art-deco movie theater, hosts performances by nationally known entertainers and the Northeast Pennsylvania Philharmonic Orchestra. The Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre is the site of concerts and other performances in addition to being a hockey arena.
- Historical tidbits: Bethlehem is recognized for having America’s first system of pumped municipal water, with the city’s 1762 Waterworks named a National Historic Landmark. Bell Laboratories in Allentown was the first to produce the solid-state transistor, and Bethlehem-based OraSure Technologies developed the world’s first oral HIV test. Wilkes-Barre was the site of HBO’s first broadcast, with 325 households hooked up for the Paul Newman-Henry Fonda movie “Sometimes A Great Notion.” In the early 1800s, settlers used the Mount Pocono area for lumbering.
- Taxes: Wilkes-Barre residents pay a 3 percent local tax on earned income, while non-residents who work there pay 1 percent. Bethlehem and Mount Pocono impose a 1 percent local wage tax. Those taxes are in addition to the 3.07 percent statewide 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.
- However you say it: Wilkes-Barre is named for John Wilkes and Issacs Barré, and the French heritage of the second namesake leads to multiple pronunciations. Hall says three are common: “wilks-barry,” “wilks-bar,” and “wilks-bare-rah.” “Everybody says it different,” Hall says. “You say it however you like.”
- The Christmas City: From a Christmas-tree tossing contest to a 91-foot-tall star that is lighted year-round, Bethlehem relishes its reputation as the Christmas City, a name officially bestowed in 1934. The 25-year-old Christkindlmarkt offers items by almost 200 artisans and vendors from throughout the country, along with music, ice-carving, glass-blowing and St. Nicholas.
- The mighty Babe: Babe Ruth reportedly hit the longest home run in history during a 1926 exhibition game at Artillery Park in Wilkes-Barre. Reports at the time said the ball was still rising when it cleared the right-field fence 400 feet from home plate; estimates put the total distance at 650 feet.
For more on the PA gambling scene, be sure to read our other guides: