Philly Horsemen Blast Track's New Slots Plan

Philadelphia Park Casino & Racetrack has asked state regulators to be let out of a commitment to build a permanent $300-million slot-machine gambling facility, a request the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association called a “bait-and-switch.”

Without the promised slots expansion into a permanent, freestanding facility, horsemen at the Pennsylvania racetrack said they fear wagering will suffer.

Philly Park, owned by Greenwood Racing, said it would build the permanent facility by late 2008 as a condition of the slots license it was awarded Sept. 27, 2006. The company insisted in a statement issued May 2 it is not reneging on the promise, but merely wants more time to plan for a permanent facility.

The request, made in an April 5 filing with the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, said unexpectedly heavy customer flow since it opened for slots gambling in December forced the track to develop plans to expand its temporary casino. As a result, Philly Park wants the gaming board to let the expansion to its temporary slots parlor, which occupies part of the racetrack grandstand, to qualify as a permanent facility.

The track said expansion of the temporary facility would make space for 336 more slot machines, bringing the total to more than 2,400 and the cost to more than $186 million by the time the expansion is completed this summer.

“This is a classic bait and switch,” Mike Ballezzi, executive director of the Pennsylvania THA, said in a May 2 release. “Greenwood Gaming made elaborate promises to areas residents, local elected officials, and the gaming board in order to gain their support and obtain a gaming license. Now the company is backtracking on its promises to build a world-class destination resort, including a $300-million permanent casino by the fall of 2009. If Philadelphia Park is successful in having this facility deemed 'permanent,' there will be nothing left to compel the company to move ahead with any of its promised investments in the site.”

“Greenwood Gaming is attempting to get away with a minimal investment at Philadelphia Park without investing the $300 million in a grand permanent casino it had originally promised during its licensure. Rather than a Borgata or Bellagio, Bucks County residents are going to be saddled with what amounts to a local slots hall. Rather than a premier destination, Philadelphia Park's casino could well be the worst in the state. This is unacceptable.”

Ballezzi said approval of the plan would “set a terrible precedent for gaming in Pennsylvania.” The Pennsylvania THA is preparing a response opposing the track’s petition to the gaming control board.

A gaming board spokesman said the agency is reviewing Philly Park’s request and plans to hold public hearings on the issue.