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October 26, 2012

New owners in the gate for proposed track

NEW CASTLE — New players will try their hand at building a racetrack/casino in Lawrence County.

The Pennsylvania Harness Racing Commission Thursday approved the transfer of stock — the assets of the proposed Valley View Downs — from Pittsburgh-based American Harness Tracks to Philadelphia-based Endeka Entertainment.

The approval of the new owners comes with six conditions and a strict timetable.

Within the next 30 days, Endeka must:

•Provide documents to the commission verifying its financial commitment and that at least $170 million is available to construct a racing facility.

•Furnish an executed copy of a management agreement to operate the facility.

•Submit an application for a casino license to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

Within the next 60 days Endeka must:

•Submit an agreement to the racing commission with one or more organizations that race horses, such as the Pennsylvania Harness Horsemen’s Association.

•Commit to at least 30 days of live racing in its first year of operation.

•Provide proof to the racing commission that approval has been obtained for all zoning and permits for the project.

Dan Vogler, Lawrence County commissioner chairman, who attended the meeting, reported that attorney James Doherty III, representing Endeka, said the new entity stated that it would “go forward with the project, fully integrating the commissions requirements.

“We will be responsive and provide any information required and look forward to bringing racing to Lawrence County.”

Vogler said he asked commission chairman Roy Wilt if the requirement to locate the project in Mahoning Township is still in effect. “I received an affirmative.”

He said Wilt noted all existing conditions — including the location — remain in place.

American Harness Tracks announced Endeka Entertainment as the new financial backer for the racetrack/casino proposal in June.

The new partners include insurance executive Manuel Stamatakis, an investor in the failed downtown Philadelphia Foxwoods casino, and Edward Snider, chairman of Comcast Spectacor, which owns the Philadelphia Flyers.

Both also were investors in the Philadelphia Trotters and Pacers Inc., which unsuccessfully sought a harness racing license. That project failed in 2004. In 2011, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board revoked the Foxwoods casino license because of construction delays. Property developer Peter DePaul, who was involved in the Foxwoods project, is also a partner.

The harness commission awarded the racing license to Lawrence County in September 2007, after a compromise was reached between local developer Carmen Shick and Centaur Gaming.

Shick and his partners had proposed constructing a $450 million racetrack/casino on 250 acres of family-owned land off Route 422. Indiana-based Centaur had proposed Valley View Downs in Beaver County.

Centaur, caught in the 2008 credit market collapse, defaulted on an almost-$1 billion loan. American Harness Tracks purchased Centaur’s Valley View assets at a bankruptcy auction in October 2010, and has been seeking financing for the project.

The harness commission approved American Harness’ plan and granted a conditional racing license in July 2011, setting conditions that include proof of financial backing and hiring a management team to oversee the project.

Harness commission approval of the new owners was required before a casino license could be requested from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

(Email: nlowry@ncnewsonline.com)

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