Will the Casino Industry Replace Manufacturing in America’s Rust Belt?

Crowded Roulette Table With Casino Logo

The casino industry may just find itself next in line to replace manufacturing in the Rust Belt, a region situated around the Great Lakes that runs from New York to Michigan. The Belt also includes portions of Northwest Virginia, Southwest Pennsylvania, Eastern Pennsylvania, and Western New Jersey.

It’s a large area where manufacturing was king at one time, having peaked between the 1940s and 1970s, depending on the area. However, manufacturing declined in the latter portion of the 1950s, with some areas experiencing 60% or more losses in manufacturing jobs.

But with the popularity of the casino and gambling industry comes a new hope if you live in the Belt. And maybe, just maybe, the casino industry is exactly what the Belt needs to return to prominence in the 21st century.

Below, you’ll find a few reasons why that is the case.

The Casino Industry Started Sweeping the Rust Belt

It’s very fitting that many Rust Belt states have led the nation in the legalization of all forms of gambling that, during the manufacturing industry’s peak, often included pari-mutuel wagering.

Today, New Jersey, Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia all have legal US casinos. Many of which began at racetracks in the form of video lottery terminals (VLTs). Legalization has since expanded to include table games and sports betting.

Ohio has also made serious strides since the manufacturing industry collapsed. As the 2010s rolled around, Ohio legalized land-based casino gaming, VLTs at racetracks, and many casinos are now offering table games.

United States Rust Belt Map

You’ll also find around a dozen casinos popping up all over Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, which are tertiary states in the Rust Belt.

As mentioned, many have existed for decades, acting as racetracks before in the past and earning the nickname “racino” when VLTs became a thing. They have expanded with table gaming, sportsbooks, and other awesome amenities to where it soon won’t surprise any of us if the industry becomes a state’s largest employer.

While many of us who have either grown up in or know people who live in the Belt, the common denominator resides in reminiscence of a time that once was—and a time many believe will never return.

If you or someone you know feels such nostalgia, you’re halfway there. Yes, it’s true. Manufacturing likely ain’t coming back! It’s pretty much history. And while it built the region, it didn’t sustain it. But hopefully, something else will. The next section will show you why.

A Few Casinos Are Built on Former Manufacturing Sites

Ain’t that cool? Per my research regarding land-based casinos in the Philadelphia area, a few now stand atop old manufacturing buildings or yards that once held another purpose. So, instead of leaving abandoned mills to sit and rot, they’re repurposing the land for a new industry to shine and take place.

Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino and Racetrack, for example, stands on top of the site of the former Sun Shipbuilding campus. They built Rivers Casino Philadelphia on the old Jack Frost Sugar Refinery, where it received its original name, SugarHouse Casino. And in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Wind cCeek Bethlehem finds itself standing on the former location of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation.

But if that isn’t enough, you can safely correlate the fact they built many recent casinos in the Belt near former plants if they aren’t standing on top of where they once stood.

Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino and Racetrack

Look at Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Rivers is located near a super shopping center in nearby Homestead, Pennsylvania. It’s a Pittsburgh-based suburb located so close to the city that you can see its central business district.

While Homestead’s Waterfront today acts as a shopping center, it was once among the city’s largest employers as a steel mill known as US Steel’s Homestead Works. And in nearby West Virginia, Mountaineer Racetrack-Casino-Resort is located a straight shot north of where Weirton Steel once dominated the region in terms of employment. 45 minutes south, Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack sits close to the old Wheeling Works.

Both racinos have since expanded dramatically in recent years and now have hundreds of employees. With further expansion, expect an even higher number.

We’ll discover how well the casino industry is replacing the manufacturing industry in the next section.

The Gambling Industry Is Becoming a Large Employer

While the manufacturing industry has laid off many employees, and several local businesses in the Belt have gone defunct, the casino industry has only grown.

Let’s do a quick rundown regarding the correlation between casinos in the Pittsburgh area residing in Northern West Virginia and Southwest Pennsylvania areas and the closing of manufacturing industries around the same time.

Alright, so while the steel and manufacturing industry took a major hit decades before they licensed the first slots in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, it wasn’t until the turn of the century did things grow lukewarm in the manufacturing sector.

In 2004, they allowed slots at Meadows Casino near Pittsburgh. In 1994, legislation gave nearby Mountaineer Racetrack-Casino-Resort authorization for slot machine gaming, becoming the first racetrack in America to do so. Both casinos then became known as “racinos.”

Mountaineer Racetrack-Casino-Resort

During this time, the steel industry we knew the region for was on the brink of collapse. Weirton Steel, located about 30 to 45 minutes from both casinos, was going bankrupt, with a final buyout approved in 2004. During the time, Weirton Steel’s employment shrunk to under 3,000 workers.

Today, Arcelor Mittal owns what’s left of the plant, which employs about 800 workers. That’s a significant drop-off since its decline and bankruptcy.

We can say the same for Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel, headquartered from 1920 to 1986 in Pittsburgh and from 1986 to 2013 in Wheeling. Many of Wheeling-Pitt’s locations were near Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack.

After employing nearly 10,000 workers in 1985, the plants that Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel owned reduced their employee count to just 3,100 in 2006. It was another heavy loss. But in the mid- to late 2000s, state legislation called for the legalization of table gaming in each of these casinos, boosting employee numbers. New casinos like Rivers Casino Pittsburgh sprang up, and casino gaming floors expanded.

Several expansion projects in the 2010s occurred in each of these casinos as their popularity grew. Today, each is offering sportsbooks, where some are building entire departments for their sportsbooks. Online gaming has also grown, meaning there are more jobs coming about in that sector.

With the expansion of video lottery terminals, online gaming, sportsbooks, and table gaming, you can only imagine what the future holds when legislation approves more casinos to be built in an area like Weirton-Steubenville-Pittsburgh, which had seen 60% or more of its manufacturing jobs go.

But perhaps the expansion has already begun. And if it succeeds, expect many other areas in the Rust Belt to follow suit. Areas of industry like construction, the food industry, and the tech industry will all soar to new heights. Keep reading for more innovation that should hit this area come 2021.

The Mini-Casino Industry Is Sweeping Across the Steel City

Perhaps Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, should get credit with what may be the next big thing in the Rust Belt’s casino gaming industry with the mini casino.

While they slated many of these to open this year, the grand opening dates for these casinos are likely set for 2021 instead of their scheduled 2020 kickoff. But if you’re looking for an economic boost that also includes job creation, look no further than the mini casino. You’ll likely find these in malls, shopping centers, and other high-end retail outlets in the city.

Mini Casino Floor

And you’re looking at obvious jobs in many sectors, including the construction industry, among others. So, besides the mini casinos creating a boom in the local economy itself through the casino and gaming sector, you can safely bet that it will help build other economic sectors.

What is the mini casino, anyway? I think many of us believe it’s some dodgy back room at some local restaurant or bar that holds between five and 10 slots along with a whole lot of smoking. Fortunately, that isn’t the case.

A mini casino is a legit casino about half the size of a full-sized land-based casinos. They’re often around 50,000 square feet of real estate with about 750 slot machines, around 20 table games, and a few poker tables. They’ll have an online option along with a sportsbook.

And as mentioned, many of these will open in malls and places that draw crowds like shopping centers. You can just see the trickle-down effect coming into play here with patrons attending not just the casino, but may also help boost an ailing retail business.

So, while the casino industry replaces manufacturing in the Rust Belt, especially in places like Pittsburgh, it will also help revitalize other sectors of local economies. And if these mini establishments do well in Pittsburgh, you can bet they will spread fast across America in places where the casino industry is becoming more of a thing.


There is a definite correlation between the loss of manufacturing jobs in the Rust Belt (Pittsburgh area in this article) and the expansion of casino gaming and of casinos themselves.

And early returns definitely mean an economic boost in a variety of fields, not just the casino gaming field, with construction and other areas receiving a boost. And it has led to an expansion of land-based casinos in the area.

In the future, you should look for more states like Ohio to follow suit as they see the boost to the economies of fellow Rust Belt states like Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

Do you believe the casino gaming industry is on pace to replace manufacturing on an economic scale in the Rust Belt? Let us know in the comments and tell us if you have been to casinos located on former industrial sites.