Mountaineer, Canterbury on Forbes' 'Best Small Companies' List

The public companies that own Mountaineer Park and Canterbury Park were recognized by Forbes magazine this week as two of the country's top 200 small companies.

MTR Gaming Group, which owns West Virginia's Mountaineer Park, ranked seventh on the list, and Canterbury Park Holding of Minnesota ranked 88th. MTR Gaming's high ranking came with a full-page feature about chief executive officer Edson "Ted" Arneault's efforts to convert Mountaineer Park from a nearly defunct racetrack to a lucrative gambling resort. Over the last five years, Mountaineer Park's sales have increased an average 43% and earnings have increased 54%. The track has earned $16.9 million on $195 million in revenue over the past 12 months.

Arneault has successfully negotiated a long road full of pitfalls since 1993, according to the Forbes profile. He became involved with the track in 1992 when a friend asked for help selling the property. He worked on the deal as a consultant. When Winners Entertainment bought the track, he stayed on to test a then-novel idea of running video lottery machines at the track. From 1993 to 1996, Arneault's plans for the track were nearly derailed by scandal at the state lottery commission, bumbling by a bad management firm, and fraud committed by a major financier.

In 1997, he got the track's development back on track by persuading Cerberus Partners, a Manhattan fund manger, to issue $16 million in loans. Cerberus loaned $14 million more the following year and Wells Fargo loaned another $75 million over three years. Arneault, who became president of Mountaineer's parent company in 1995, began building fast and furiously. Today Mountaineer Park is a 2,000-acre complex with a 140,000 square-foot casino, a 70,000 square-foot arena for concerts, and a 28,000 square-foot convention center. A spa and fitness center opened in August and newly expanded hotel will open next April.

Canterbury Park Holding earned a spot on the Forbes list by posting over the past five year an average 15% increase in sales and an average 54% increase in earnings. The Shakopee, Minn., racetrack earned $1.8 million on $38 million in revenue during the past 12 months. Like Mountaineer Park, Canterbury has increased business by offering gambling alternatives. In April 2000, the track opened a card room, which during the second quarter of this year generated $4.1 million in revenue.

To qualify for a spot on Forbes' list of top small companies, a business' sales and earnings had to grow by a minimum of 5% over the past five years. The economic downturn did force the magazine to change some criteria for this year. For example, the revenue limit had to be increased to $600 million from $350 million.