By Jeff Himler for Tribune-Review

Westmoreland County's status as the proposed locale for one of Pennsylvania's new mini casinos is good news for the local tourism industry — making that much sweeter the annual distribution Thursday of tourism grants generated by a county lodging tax.

Thirty-five Westmoreland County tourism-related businesses and organizations received a combined $306,059 in grants during a presentation at The Palace Theatre in Greensburg. That's a little less than a third of the money requested by this year's 60 applicants.

The mini casino is "going to have a ripple effect for all of you," county commission Chairman Gina Cerilli told the grant recipients. "We're going to be able to have more restaurants, more gas stations, more shops, more stores, more visitors coming to your attractions — more people staying in the hotels, getting the hotel tax up, and for us to be able to hand out more money in the coming years."

She said the commissioners are "keeping our fingers crossed" that the proposed casino will come to fruition. "Nothing is official yet, but we are very optimistic and very excited for that."

Ann Nemanic, executive director of the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, said visitors annually spend $1.8 billion in the region the bureau serves — Westmoreland, Somerset and Fayette counties. Visitors spent more than $753 million in Westmoreland County in 2015, according to the most recent state studies.

Many visitors come to the county to enjoy outdoor activities, an appeal reflected in a number of the grant awards.

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