Site for Erie Racetrack Remains Up in the Air

by Dan Reynolds

The decision on where an Erie racetrack will be located is being pushed back because of engineering and legal issues.

A spokesman for the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission said a request by MTR Gaming to transfer a racing license from Summit Township to the city of Erie wasn't on the table at its September meeting.

"The decision is a long way off," said Ben Nolt, executive secretary for the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission.

The commission meeting was scheduled for Sept. 15 at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, but has been rescheduled for Sept. 29. Nolt said the new date had nothing to with any items on the commission's agenda.

"That's at the will of the commissioners--they can meet whenever they want," Nolt said.

Ted Arneault, chief executive of MTR Gaming, which applied for the license transfer, said the delay is really on his end. MTR Gaming owns Mountaineer Race Track and Gaming Resort, which is located in West Virginia, about 90 minutes from Erie.

Arneault said two things have to happen before his company asks for a decision from the commission. "We're in abeyance," Arneault said.

Arneault said a legal challenge to the license granted Presque Isle Downs must be first be resolved before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Beaver County developer Chuck Betters has sued the commission, saying it improperly granted the license to MTR Gaming in July 2003.

Arneault said he had "no idea" when the court would issue its decision. Betters couldn't comment.

Betters heads a group that plans to build a Thoroughbred racetrack in the Hays neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Betters and other planners of Pittsburgh Palisades Park are one of five groups in the running for the remaining Thoroughbred license in the state.

Public hearings on those applications have not yet been scheduled. But whoever wins that license isn't guaranteed a slots license. Presque Isle Downs is guaranteed a slots license.

Arneault said there are still many traffic engineering issues to sort out before the company decides whether to build in Summit Township, near the intersection of  I-90 and Route 97, or on the former International Paper mill site located within the city of Erie and next to Presque Isle Bay.

Arneault said both sites have advantages. He said the Summit Township site has easy interstate access, and the Erie site is located near a large number of attractive outdoor recreational options.

"We've got two great choices," Arneault said.