By Lynne Snierson
The struggling Massachusetts harness racing industry received a huge boost Feb. 27 when the Massachusetts Gaming Commission voted 3-2 to select Penn National Gaming Inc.'s proposal to build the state's single slots parlor at Plainridge Race Course.
PNGI's application was chosen over those from two competitors: the Cordish Companies and the partnership of Greenwood Racing, which owns Parx Racing and Casino, and its partner Raynham Park, a horse and dog racing simulcast facility that hosted live greyhound racing before it was outlawed in the state.
The Cordish Cos. plan, which did not have a racing component, received the votes of two of the commissioners while the Greenwood/Raynham application got no votes even though it offered 40 days of live racing to the harness horsemen if chosen.
The commissioners set a deadline of 9:30 a.m. on Feb. 28 for PNGI officials to inform them that they will agree to the conditions set forth in the license and accept it. Once that happens, the MGC will hold a subsequent vote to formally award the license.
Eric Schippers, PNGI's senior vice president for governmental relations, said officials are thrilled by the decision and see no issues with the conditions set by the MGC. He said the company eagerly anticipates being awarded the license.
PNGI will then exercise its option to purchase Plainridge Race Course from the current ownership group, which the MGC disqualified from holding a gaming license in August after it was discovered a senior executive took more than $1 million in cash for personal use over time.
Track owners sturck a deal last fall after PNGI failed in earlier separate attempts to proceed in the process for a casino license and another slots proposal.
"The option agreement we had was conditioned upon the awarding of the license and we will be purchasing the racetrack. Our ability and desire to help preserve and revitalize the (harness) racing industry in Massachusetts was huge component of our application," Schippers said.
Plainridge is scheduled to open its 2014 live meet of 100 days on April 15. Track officials had openly said that without the slots license, the track would go dark.
State law mandates the betting parlor may have a maximum of 1,250 slot machines. The cost of the license is $25 million and a minimum investment in the facility of $125 million is required. Nine percent of the facility's revenue will go to the MCG's Race Horse Development Fund to benefit both Standardbred and Thoroughbred horsemen.
The MGC will award the first two casino licenses by the end of June. Suffolk Downs and gaming partner Mohegan Sun and Wynn Resorts are competing for the sole license designated for the Greater Boston area.
By Lynne Snierson