Slot Machines Discussed In Pennsylvania

Presque Isle Downs, the Thoroughbred racetrack proposed for Erie, Pa., was the subject of a Pennsylvania State Horse Racing Commission hearing Oct. 9 in Erie. The hearing came at a time when alternative gaming at racetracks has become an issue. Rep. Tom Petrone earlier this year said he would seek gaming referendums in the four counties in which racetracks are located, and he plans to introduce a bill soon.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Gov. Mark Schweiker, soon to be governor given the fact Gov. Tom Ridge has accepted a cabinet post with President Bush, prefers a statewide vote on gaming.

MTR Gaming, which owns and operates Mountaineer Race Track and Gaming Resort in West Virginia, announced plans for the new track this summer. MTR Gaming has applied for a racing license, and hopes to open the racing and entertainment center in 2003.

John Brabender, a Pittsburgh, Pa., attorney who is working with MTR Gaming president Edson "Ted" Arneault, told the Erie Times-News that Presque Isle Downs already has generated interest in the Thoroughbred community.

"The demand around the country and in this region for people who want to have horses and participate there is really overwhelming," Brabender told the newspaper. "It shows that the product will be here. That process has been going extremely well."

Erie last hosted live Thoroughbred racing in the late 1980s at Erie Downs, formerly known as Commodore Downs, which opened in the early 1970s. It currently is home to an off-track betting parlor operated by The Downs at Pocono, a Wilkes-Barre, Pa., harness track owned by Penn National Gaming.

Penn National officials have said they oppose plans for a racetrack in Erie. They claim MTR Gaming is interested only in the prospect of alternative gaming, but Arneault has said the proposal is about horse racing and entertainment, not slot machines. The issue has come up before in the state legislature but went nowhere.

If it opens, Presque Isle Downs would offer live racing in the evening for about three months in the summer, and be open year-round for simulcasting.