Commission Approves Atlantic City Sale

The New Jersey Racing Commission on Wednesday unanimously approved the sale of Atlantic City Race Course to Greenwood Racing for $13 million.

Greenwood, which operates Philadelphia Park and its six Turf Clubs in Pennsylvania, is primarily interested in the property because of the recent passage of off-track betting legislation in New Jersey.

Under the agreement, Penn National Gaming holds an option to buy an interest in Atlantic City and its 280-acre property. Currently, Pennwood Racing, a partnership between Greenwood and Penn National Gaming, owns Freehold Raceway and a 10-acre tract on what was the former site of Garden State Park.

Hal Handel, chief executive officer of Greenwood, said closing is set for Sept. 20, though several extension periods could push the transfer to late October. In addition, certain "contingencies" could drive the final purchase price to $18 million.

While Handel didn't speculate on the future of live racing at the track, which was built in 1945 and whose first stockholders were Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope, he did say the same number of dates probably would be offered in 2002. Atlantic City presented 10 says of racing, all on the turf, this May.

"We've got several options with the property," Handel said. "One is renovation of the existing facility, which could be problematic because of the current state of disrepair. And the other is building a new off-track wagering facility somewhere on the grounds."

"This is legitimately a good deal for both parties," said Bob Levy, Atlantic City's chairman, who is expected to remain involved in the operation for at least two years. "They got a very good price, because they can merge it into their operations. We got a very good price, because we sold the real estate along with the racing license."

Jim Murphy, Atlantic City president since 1986, is not expected to be involved with the new operation.

Previous attempts to sell the track have fallen through.

"We're happy that it's going to a good racing group," Levy said. "We did this for our stockholders. They're all going to get cash, which they'd much rather have than stock. It's a great deal for everybody involved."