Presque Isle Plans 25 Nights for Opening Season

Presque Isle Downs, currently under construction near Erie, Pa., plans to offer 25 nights of Thoroughbred racing for its inaugural season in September 2007, track officials and horsemen said.

The MTR Gaming Group-owned track plans to activate slot machines in the winter of 2007. Rose Mary Williams, director of racing at Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort, MTR Gaming's West Virginia property, said slots revenue for the Presque Isle purse account would have months to accrue.

Estimates vary but purses could average about $200,000 a night when the track opens Sept. 1. Racing will be held six nights a week (Tuesday is the dark day) through Sept. 29. Plans call for eight-race programs beginning at 5:30 p.m. EDT.

Beginning in 2008, about 100 days of live racing will be held, probably in late spring, summer, and early fall, when the weather in northwestern Pennsylvania is moderate.

Construction on the grandstand/clubhouse, which will house racing and slots operations, is almost finished. Simulcasts also will be offered in advance of live racing.

Horsemen at Presque Isle, the first Thoroughbred track built in Pennsylvania since defunct Commodore Downs near Erie opened in 1973, will be represented by the Pennsylvania Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, which also has the horsemen's contract at Penn National Race Course near Harrisburg, Pa.

Joe Santanna, recently elected Pennsylvania HBPA president, said horsemen are in discussions with MTR Gaming on a live-racing agreement. The Pennsylvania HBPA represented horsemen at Commodore Downs.

"I think we're fairly close to coming to an agreement," said Santanna, also president of the National HBPA, of which the Pennsylvania HBPA is an affiliate. "We're hoping through the negotiation process to get them to put in a synthetic surface. We're also hoping for some 'splash days' when we can offer some racing that will be pretty exciting."

Santanna, a Thoroughbred owner who lives near Harrisburg, served as president of the Pennsylvania HBPA in the 1990s. He said he ran for office again because of the changing landscape in the state.

"I ran because I think it's going to be absolutely exciting how racing is going to change in Pennsylvania," he said. "This is pretty ground-breaking stuff. We're going to have two facilities with purses beyond our dreams."

Under the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Development and Gaming Act, purses and breed development get 12% of gross slots revenue, plus up to another 6% from soon-to-be-built non-track slots casinos.

The Presque Isle purse structure remains in flux because no one knows how much revenue will be generated between the opening of the slots parlor and the first live meet. Given the fact the first meet is only 25 days long to meet licensing requirements, daily average purses in 2008 could be lower given the meet will be much longer.

Purses at Penn National, which races more than 200 nights a year, could eventually top $200,000. For the past 10 years they've averaged $57,000-$76,000.

Philadelphia Park, which plans to open its slots parlor Dec. 19-20, expects to offer about $300,000 a day in purses by the middle of 2007, up from the current figure of $145,000.