Pennsylvania Applicants Line Up for Track License

by Dan Reynolds

The Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission will meet Aug. 24 to map out a timeline for approval of the state's final Thoroughbred racetrack license. But whoever gets the license isn't guaranteed a slot machine license, which has narrowed the field of applicants.

Slots legislation approved in July limited the number of Thoroughbred tracks that would be guaranteed slots licenses to three. Slots licenses will go to Penn National Race Course, and Philadelphia Park, and Presque Isle Downs, a track proposed for Erie.

Though there were nine applicants for the last Thoroughbred license before the slots legislation was crafted, only four companies hit an informal Aug. 16 deadline to apply for the remaining license. The applicants hope they can win a slots license.

Of five eligible Category Two slots licenses, or those not automatically coupled with a racetrack, two will go to ventures in Philadelphia, one will go to Pittsburgh, and the remaining two will go to locations officials believe would generate the most economic development.

Christopher Craig, legal counsel for Sen. Vince Fumo, a Philadelphia Democrat, said having a horseracing license is not a requirement for getting the Category Two license, but he said that doesn't preclude an applicant from getting a slots license. Gov. Ed Rendell is in the process of forming a gaming commission that will determine how the remaining slots licenses are dispersed.

The four companies with applications now before the racing commission are:

--Pittsburgh Palisades Park, which is led by Beaver County developer Charles Betters. Betters' group hopes to build a racetrack in the Hays section of Pittsburgh on a bluff overlooking the Monongahela River.

--1935 Inc., formed by five members of the Biros family, which proposes building Oak Park Racetrack in South Versailles Township, southeast of Pittsburgh.

--100 % Purses Inc., which wants to build 1 1/8-mile racetrack named Freedom Park near Nazareth in the Lehigh Valley. The track would be owned and operated by the more than 2,000 members of the Pennsylvania Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association.

--Bedford Downs Management Corp., which has proposed building either a Standardbred or Thoroughbred track in Lawrence County.

Joe Santanna, president of 100 % Purses, said the horsemen's association would still build a track in the Lehigh Valley even if it wasn't guaranteed a slots license. He said his group would expect to operate the track with lower purses than tracks that have slots licenses. But he said the fact the track would be owned by the horsemen's association would mean that profits would be directed back into the industry.

Kristina Watson, a spokeswoman for the commission, said the panel is waiting to hear from Toronto-based Magna Entertainment Corp., which has not yet responded to inquiries about its previous license application. MEC had proposed building a Thoroughbred track in Findlay Township, which is also the location of Pittsburgh International Airport.

MEC executives couldn't be immediately reached for comment Aug. 18. MEC owns The Meadows, an operating harness track south of Pittsburgh that is in line for slot machines.