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July 28, 2012

American Harness ‘committed’ to local racetrack

WASHINGTON, Pa. — State racing officials are considering new financial partners taken on by American Harness Tracks.

Progress could soon follow.

“We are committed to Lawrence County,” American Harness consultant Anton Leppler yesterday told the Pennsylvania Harness Racing Commission, which met at the Meadows Racetrack and Casino in Washington County.

Board member Noah Wenger and chairman Roy Wilt were present and member Richard Welsh participated via telephone.

Following the meeting, Leppler said plans are proceeding.

Last month, Pittsburgh-based American Harness announced that it had taken on new partners — Philadelphia-based Endeka Entertainment which includes Edward Snider, chief executive officer of Comcast Spectacor, which owns the Philadelphia Flyers; and Peter DePaul of the DePaul Group, and insurance executive Manuel “Manny” Stamatakis, both of whom had invested in the Foxwoods Casino project, a proposed stand-alone casino for Philadelphia.

The Gaming Control Board revoked that license last year.

Those individuals now must be investigated and approved by the commission. Leppler said this week the application listing new members was filed with the commission.

“There are a lot of moving parts to this project,” he said, adding that the new partners “are all longtime successful businessmen and fully committed to the project and Lawrence County.”

Following action by the commission, American Harness will apply to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board for a license to operate a casino, Leppler said.

Financing had been a problem since former racing license holder Centaur Gaming of Indiana — approved for a license in September 2007for the Mahoning Township site — lost its financing following the collapse of the credit market in 2008. American Harness acquired Centaur’s holdings at an October 2010 bankruptcy auction.

Leppler said American Harness appreciates the commitment shown by the county commissioners, who pledged up to $50 million in anticipated racetrack/casino revenue to support the project development.

Prior to the meeting, Leppler said activity by Pennsylvania-based Penn National Gaming to construct a thoroughbred racetrack in Austintown will not influence the local project.

“The two developers should work together,” he said. “After all, we’ll be attracting the same patrons.”

Although Leppler could not estimate when American Harness might break ground locally, he confided, “I wouldn’t rule it out (for this year) either.”

Penn National’s plans are a little more concrete. The organization has announced a fall ground breaking.

Timothy Wilmont, Penn National president and chief operating officer, will attend the Aug. 30 Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber of Commerce Salute to Business Early Bird Breakfast at 7:30 a.m. at Mr. Anthony’s Banquet Center in Boardman.

In January 2011 Penn National announced plans for a $125 million racetrack and video lottery terminal facility in Austintown.

Also attending yesterday’s meeting were Lawrence County commissioners Robert DelSignore, Steve Craig, and chairman Dan Vogler, accompanied by county administrator James Gagliano and county solicitor Tom Leslie.

Vogler said he remains encouraged by what he heard at the meeting, and said he has faith in the partners who are joining local businessman Chuck Long to establish the track.

(Email: nlowry@ncnewsonline.com)

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