Philly Park, Horsemen Strike Deal
by Linda Dougherty
Date Posted: 12/13/2007 9:32:30 AM
Last Updated: 12/14/2007 5:18:22 PM

Philadelphia Park live racing contract has been extended for seven years.
Photo: Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO

Greenwood Gaming and Entertainment and the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association announced Dec. 10 they have extended their live racing contract at Philadelphia Park Casino and Racetrack for seven years, with Greenwood promising to make substantial improvements to the backstretch as well as revert most of the grandstand back to a venue for horseplayers.

Included among the improvements to the backstretch is the renovation of all 36 barns and 12 dormitory structures, which Greenwood will complete over the next eight years. All of the barns date back to 1974, when the track opened as Keystone Race Track. The majority of them are in poor condition.

The restoration of the grandstand will come as part of the construction project on the new $250-million stand-alone casino Greenwood is required to build in order to receive a permanent license to operate slot machines. Construction is expected to start in early 2008, and be complete in late 2009.

Earlier this spring, Greenwood petitioned the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to reclassify the grandstand, which has two floors dedicated to slot-machine gaming, from a “temporary” to a “permanent” slots casino. The company claimed it already had invested heavily in the project.

But an outcry from horsemen, politicians, and the public forced Greenwood to pull the petition and forge ahead with plans for the stand-alone casino.

“We have always made it clear that we intended to construct and maintain a first-class facility, both for our casino and horseracing patrons,” said Bob Green, chairman of Greenwood Gaming. “This agreement (with the horsemen) paves the way for significant improvements to our facility that will enhance the Philadelphia Park experience for our casino guests and for the horseracing community.”

“Philadelphia Park has really stepped up to the plate and delivered,” said Mike Ballezzi, executive director of the Pennsylvania THA, which represents the track’s owners and trainers. The horsemen’s group had vigorously opposed Greenwood’s attempt to keep the majority of the grandstand for slot machines as a “permanent” slots facility.

“Our decision to extend our contract is a demonstration of our firm belief that management is committed to making this one of the premier facilities in the Mid-Atlantic region,” Ballezzi said. “We believe it will really enhance the overall entertainment experience for visitors to Philadelphia Park.”

Since losing most of the grandstand space to slots, overall handle has dropped at the Bensalem Township facility by more than 13% this year.

In 2006, just after the Pennsylvania legislature passed the slots bill, Greenwood submitted plans to the gaming board for a two-story, stand-alone casino of more than 300,000 square feet as part of its application for a temporary slots license. Those plans called for an adjoining, multi-tier parking garage with space for 2,000 vehicles, floor space for 5,000 slot machines, a 15,000-square-foot buffet, a circular bar that would double as a staging area for musical performances, and four restaurants, with a cost estimated at $300 million.

Greenwood had even mapped out subsequent phases in the plans, which featured a hotel, clubhouse spa, conference center, golf course, and a retail gallery, encompassing all 413 acres of track property.

The current proposal that Greenwood submitted to the gaming board Nov. 8 is much more modest--only 250,000 square feet with room for only 4,000 slots and with no parking garages. The cost is $50 million less than the casino proposed in 2006.

Greenwood submitted the new plans just in time for the gaming board to review and approve them, as their temporary license expires Dec. 18.

 



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