Tribe Has Deal to Buy Track From Penn National

The Downs at Pocono, a Standardbred facility that held Thoroughbred meets in the 1970s, could become the first Pennsylvania racetrack owned by an Indian tribe should regulators approve a $280-million deal between Penn National Gaming Inc. and the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority.

PNGI has owned the track since 1996, and it also owns Penn National Race Course in Grantville in central Pennsylvania. Under gaming legislation passed in July, no company can own more than 33% of a second track, so PNGI wants to sell the Downs at Pocono.

The Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, which operates a casino in Connecticut, made the offer on the harness track near Wilkes-Barre in northeast Pennsylvania. According to published reports, the tribe plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars establishing a slot-machine casino at Pocono.

The Pennsylvania Harness Racing Commission must approve the sale, which is expected to close before the end of the year. The tribe would obtain the racetrack, which sits on 400 acres, and a network of off-track betting parlors, one of which is in Erie in northwest Pennsylvania.

In a release, PNGI said the Pocono operation, in the 12 months that ended June 30, accounted for about 50% of its Pennsylvania revenue and operating income.

"While we would have preferred to have developed Pocono Downs ourselves, given the ownership restrictions on a second licensed slot operation in Pennsylvania, we concluded we had no alternative but to sell this property," PNGI chief executive officer Peter Carlino said in a prepared statement. "We will proceed with our plans to develop and open a slot-machine facility at Penn National Race Course in early 2006."

Other existing tracks in line for slots are Philadelphia Park, owned by Greenwood Racing, and The Meadows, a harness track owned by Magna Entertainment Corp. Tracks planned for Chester and Erie also will have slots.