Penn National--Circa 1972, at Least--Nears Finish Line

The grandstand/clubhouse facility at Penn National Race Course is in the final days of its almost 34-year history. Racing fans with a fondness for the track with a mountain view are expected to make the trip for the final two nights of racing.

The April 8 program will be the last at the existing Grantville, Pa., facility, which will be demolished to make way for an integrated racetrack and slot-machine complex when track owner Penn National Gaming Inc. is licensed by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. Penn National opened Aug. 30, 1972 at its current location, just off Interstate 81 northeast of Harrisburg.

"Hopefully, we'll move on to a new era," said publicity director Fred Lipkin, who has worked at Penn National since 1973. "The company is committed to making it an integrated facility."

Afer the April 8 program, live racing will take a hiatus until April 26. Full-card simulcasts will be available in the upper clubhouse until April 15, then move to the new Paddock Club April 19. The club, which will offer no view of live racing, was built to house simulcast operations while the five-story, 365,000-square-foot racino is constructed.

During the down time for live racing, the dirt track will be stripped to the base and reconstructed. Penn National also has a turf course that will be used for racing later this spring.

It remains to be seen when construction will begin because the slots license has not yet been granted, but when it does commence, the project is expected to take 12-14 months. So it's conceivable the temporary facility will be necessary through 2007.

Lipkin said the Paddock Club is patterned after one of the company's off-track wagering facilities in Pennsylvania and can accommodate about 900 people. He said track officials held meetings to plan for events such as Kentucky Derby (gr. I) day, when the track attracts about 4,000 people.

"We understand problems may be encountered," said Lipkin, who noted Penn National will open the Paddock Club at 9 a.m. Derby morning, offer day-before betting on the Derby, put betting windows in the parking lot, and direct patrons to nearby OTB parlors or to use the track's account wagering system.

Admission to the Paddock Club will be free and open only to those 18 years of age and older.

PNGI officials April 6 outlined plans for their Hollywood Casino at Grantville during a gaming control board hearing in Harrisburg. The Patriot-News of Harrisburg reported only one person spoke against the plan for the $262-million racino.

When slots revenue is finally realized, purses are expected to about triple from their current daily average of about $65,000.