New Castle News

March 30, 2013

Withdrawn support may not be fatal to track

Nancy Lowry
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — A horsemen’s association’s withdrawal of support for the proposed track in Lawrence County has not killed the project.

But the letter, from Pennsylvania Harness Horsemen’s Association president Samuel A. Beegle, exemplifies the frustration felt by many associated with the project over the years.

Beegle’s letter was sent after yet another extension on financing was granted.

The letter to George Crawford of the Pennsylvania Harness Racing Commission, dated March 15 , noted that in a letter sent Jan. 18, Beegle had said the organization “would withdraw our participation” if another extension occurred.

“This letter is to confirm that we have now withdrawn from the project as the horsemen’s organization and no longer support a purse agreement with Endeka or their predecessors or successors.”

Beegle noted the organization has been “patient and reasonable.

“However, we no longer have any confidence that this project will be completed. Since revenues are being lost that our industry can never recover, now more than ever we feel it is important to move forward in the best interests of racing.”

According to Samantha Krepps of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, the harness racing commission learned the horsemen’s association was withdrawing from the Endeka project March 15, the day after the most recent extension was granted to the racetrack/casino developer.

On March 18, she said, the commission sent a letter to Endeka that additional criteria must be met by May 31, since the association withdrew interest in the project. This criteria now includes:

•A firm financial commitment to the project.

•A full, executed copy of a management agreement.

•A completed application for the Category 1 slow machine license from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

•A fully executed live racing agreement with a recognized horsemen’s group that currently operates in the horse racing industry of Pennsylvania.

•A summary update on the status of existing zoning/land use approvals, applications and permits for the project.

Local politicians who have been watching progress of the proposed multmillion-dollar Mahoning Township racetrack/casino said this does not kill the project.

“This could be a negotiation situation,” state Rep. Chris Sainato said Friday morning.

“This is one of the two organizations in the state that represent the horse owners at the race tracks. They still could talk to the other organization. It would be like getting another union to represent you.”

A second organization, the Meadows Standardbred Owners Association, based in Washington, Pa., presents another option.

Efforts to reach its executive director, Kim Hankins, were unsuccessful Friday.

News that the Pocono-based Pennsylvania Harness Horsemen’s Association had withdrawn from the project came as a surprise to Lawrence County Commissioner Dan Vogler.

“The letter supposedly said the association is frustrated with the lack of progress at the track project,” Vogler said. “But nothing in the letter was raised at the last meeting of the Pennsylvania State Harness Racing Commission.”

Vogler, who attended the most recent meeting, March 22, in Harrisburg, said only two letters were read — the request of Endeka Entertainment for more time to meet conditions imposed by the commission, and the letter from executive secretary George Crawford, granting an extension to May 31.

“If they’re frustrated, I can understand that,” Vogler said.

Philadelphia-based Endeka is the third license holder to be interested in the project, he noted. The others were Centaur Gaming of Indianapolis, then American Harness Tracks, based in Pittsburgh.

He added March 22’s was the third extension requested by Endeka since it took over the project.

Efforts were unsuccessful Friday to reach attorney James A. Doherty III of Scranton, who represents Endeka, or Endeka partner Chuck Long of Lawrence County.

However, earlier this month, Long said the organization is committed to invest $225 million to $250 million in a mile-long harness racetrack and casino.

He also said Endeka is negotiating with racetrack/casino giant Penn National Gaming to manage the facility.

(Email: nlowry@ncnewsonline.com)