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July 28, 2013

Track developers in compliance for license

NEW CASTLE — The Pennsylvania Harness Racing Commission Friday gave Endeka Entertainment more time to find a horsemen’s association.

In October, the commission transferred the license to operate a racetrack in Lawrence County to the Philadelphia-based developers, setting six conditions to be met.

To date, Endeka has met five of the six, but it has not yet obtained a signed agreement with a horsemen’s organization, such as the Pennsylvania Harness Horsemen’s Association, based in the Poconos, or the Meadows Standardbred Owners Association, based in Washington, Pa.

Endeka officials Friday asked for an exception. They said they understand that such an agreement is needed prior to the beginning of racing of horses, but said the condition “is not statutory,” and that it is premature at this time because the proposed racetrack — to be known as Lawrence Downs Casino and Racing Resort — will not open any time soon.

Endeka said an agreement will be in hand before the track opens.

Attorney Jorge Augusto of the commission agreed it is premature at this time and the three commission members approved it.

This, Augusto announced, brings the developers into full compliance with conditions set last year. They included providing documentation confirming a financial commitment that at least $170 million is available to construct a racing facility, submitting an application for a casino license to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, furnishing a management agreement to operate the facility, providing proof that all zoning and permits for the project have been obtained, and committing to at least 30 days of live racing in the first year of operation.

Lawrence County Commissioner Dan Vogler, who attended the meeting Friday at The Meadows Racetrack and Casino in Washington County, said this is another positive step toward the eventual opening of Lawrence Downs, to be located at Route 422 and Baird Road in Mahoning Township.

Accompanying Vogler Friday were Commissioner Robert Del Signore and Tom Leslie, county solicitor.

Although Endeka was represented at Friday’s meeting by consultant Anton Leppler, no one commented on behalf of the development at the meeting.

Endeka, now in partnership with Penn National Gaming, has announced a commitment to operate a harness racetrack/casino containing approximately 1,250 slot machines at opening, 40 live table games and 10 poker tables. It also is expected to include a variety of food and beverage options and parking for 2,000 vehicles.

Penn National, who will develop and manage the project, also will operate a thoroughbred racetrack in Austintown, Ohio.

This week, Pennsylvania-based Penn National announced plans to scale back the number of video lottery terminals to be offered next year when the Austintown facility opens. Initial plans had been to open with 1,500 terminals, which are similar to slot machines.

The cutbacks were announced in response to Penn National realizing lower than anticipated earnings from gaming sources, in the competitive Ohio market.

Penn National chairman and chief executive officer Peter Carlino said anticipated first-year revenues have not been realized in the Columbus market.

Tim Wilmott, president and chief operating officer for Penn National, said the scale back at Austintown is an effort to open conservatively and allow the market to determine if any more machines are needed.

Penn National operates two of the four Las Vegas-style casinos in Ohio, in Toledo and Columbus. Other casinos are located in Cleveland and Cincinnati.

(Email: nlowry@ncnewsonline.com)

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