VLTs Spark Interest in Long-Shut Tioga Park

An investment group is taking ownership of Tioga Park, shuttered to racing in upstate New York since 1978, with plans to begin Standardbred racing next year in a facility that it hopes will also include a video lottery terminal casino.

"I don't think anybody would operate a racetrack without knowing they are going to get VLTs in the not too distant future,'' said John Simmonds, an Ontario businessman who has joined with several partners at the 138-acre facility, which is located west of Binghamton. Simmonds is chairman of the group, TrackPower

Though state racing regulators say no action is underway with TrackPower, Simmonds said the company did submit an application last fall to begin racing in 2005 with the state Racing and Wagering Board. He said the approval process has been dormant pending the track's emergence from bankruptcy court, where it has languished for a couple years.

Simmonds, a longtime breeder and owner of Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds, said the partnership is confident it will be able to convince state officials to let it join with the other tracks in the state permitted to have VLT parlors. He declined to comment on word in Albany that the partnership is hiring Kenneth Bruno, son of powerful Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, as a lobbyist to represent them at the state Capitol.

Tioga Park's previous owners took the track into bankruptcy court, where TrackPower assumed its debt of about $2 million. The ownership of the track will include Asolare II, an Albany firm whose investors include Simmonds, and Southern Tier Acquisition, whose major investor is Jeffrey Gural, a Standardbred owner and a major real estate developer in New York City.

New York racing law permits the licensing of one more track in the state.

If the group gets a racing license for 2005, it can then apply for a VLT license with the state Lottery Division, which is running the VLT program in New York. In the past, Simmonds has said the track, located in an area he said includes one million people in a 100-mile radius, could support 1,500 or so VLTs.

"I think we'll get it,'' he said of a VLT license.

A former Quarter Horse track, Tioga Park has been home to rodeos, concerts and flea markets over the years.

The publicly held TrackPower, according to a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing last fall, had about $22,000 in assets and $1 million in debt. Simmonds, who said a new SEC filing is coming out in a week, said the company's performance has "improved since then.''