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October 23, 2013

Commission nixes Presque Isle petition

NEW CASTLE — The Pennsylvania Harness Commission has rejected the petition of an Erie racetrack/casino to block Lawrence Downs.

Pocono Downs Racetrack and Casino, commission members voted 2-0 at their meeting Friday to reject the Presque Isle Downs and Casino petition, which challenged the commissioners’ decision to award a harness racing license to Endeka Entertainment of Philadelphia.

The license authorizes the developer to operate a mile-long harness racetrack in Mahoning Township, Lawrence County.

Last month, Presque Isle Downs owners filed a petition opposing a Lawrence County racetrack and casino, citing competition concerns about existing facilities and saying a racetrack/casino in Lawrence County would not generate the income once anticipated.

The petition also questioned the legality of the unprecedented action by Lawrence County government and the Lawrence County Economic Development Corp. to back the project with a $50 million bond issue to be repaid with anticipated gaming revenues.

Earlier this month, Attorney James Doherty III, on behalf of Endeka, asked the commission to “dismiss as moot” Presque Isle’s petition.

Racing commission solicitor Jorge Augusto advised commission members to reject the petition outright, and to authorize commission executive secretary George Crawford to notify the Erie racing establishment in writing of the decision.

Lawrence County commissioner Dan Vogler, who attended the commission meeting Friday, said Augusto noted Endeka has met all licensing conditions imposed by the commission and — more importantly —there is currently no proceeding involving Endeka before the commission. As such, Augusto said, Presque Isle’s petition can’t be docketed or acted upon.

“He said Presque Isle had had many opportunities in the past six or seven years to intervene, but they chose not to,” Vogler said.

Commission members C. Edward Rogers Jr. and Noah Wegner voted to accept Augusto’s recommendation. Chairman Roy W. Wilt was absent.

According to Vogler, Augusto said the Erie gaming facility might consider presenting its petition to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, if it chooses, since Endeka/Lawrence Downs has a proceeding currently before that board.

He added that no one from either Endeka or Presque Isle Downs addressed the commission on the matter.

In May, Endeka filed its application for a casino license before the gaming control board. That board’s next meeting is scheduled for Oct. 30.

Vogler said he understands the casino application has been examined by the Bureau of Licensing and passed on to the Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement. That is the level where background checks are conducted, he said.

Vogler noted the local application is not the only matter currently before the gaming board.

“In addition to our application, they are also considering six applications for a stand-alone casino for Philadelphia,” he said.



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