Anne M. Eberhardt/Blood-Horse Publications

Philly Park Casino Plan Presented

Philadelphia Park will undergo more changes to accommodate slots and horse racing.

After a delay of several months, Greenwood Gaming & Entertainment presented plans for a stand-alone casino on the Philadelphia Park Casino & Racetrack property to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board Nov. 8.

The gaming control board will now study the proposal and vote whether to approve Greenwood’s application for a permanent license to operate slot machines. Its temporary license expires Dec. 18.

Greenwood’s stand-alone casino would be about 260,000 square feet and be built about 700 feet from the racetrack grandstand. About 120,000 square feet would be dedicated for gambling, while a food court, upscale restaurant, entertainment area, and immense bar would occupy the rest of the space. No separate parking garage will be built.

A unique feature would be a 10-story-tall video screen, surrounded by two video screens ranging from five to seven stories tall, at the casino’s main entrance facing Street Road in Bensalem Township.

“Think of it as our own Times Square,” said Dave Jonas, Philadelphia Park Casino president and chief operating officer.

Jonas estimated construction on the casino would begin in early 2008, with a grand opening planned for December 2009.

Greenwood intends to restore much of the grandstand for horseplayers once the stand-alone casino is complete. The first floor, which currently has a small area for pari-mutuel wagering, would be opened up for live racing and simulcasts. But Jonas said it’s likely some slot machines would remain on the third floor.

Sal DeBunda, vice president of the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, told gaming control board racing fans have been inconvenienced “and, in fact, discouraged” from watching live racing and betting due to the current configuration of the grandstand. He urged the board to ensure Greenwood follows through on its new plans.

“Greenwood Gaming has failed to develop a facility which promotes both live racing and slots,” DeBunda said, citing a total handle decrease of 13% for the year. “If anything, they have clearly promoted slots at the expense of racing.”

The new casino plan is far different from the one Greenwood submitted to the board in March 2006 when it applied for its temporary slots license. Those plans called for a 300,000- square-foot, two-story casino with an adjoining parking garage for 2,000 vehicles, a 15,000-square-foot buffet, and room for 5,000 slot machines.

But Greenwood scrapped those plans in April, when it petitioned the gaming control board to change the status of its grandstand from a “temporary” to a “permanent” slots facility, claiming it had heavily invested in renovations. After a huge outcry from politicians, horsemen, and the public, Greenwood withdrew that petition.