Is Centaur’s time drawing to a close?

The Indiana-based gaming organization received the nod of the Pennsylvania Harness Racing Commission on Sept. 5, 2007, to operate a $449 million, mile-long race track in Mahoning Township. At that time, few anticipated the company would declare bankruptcy in two years or that three years would pass without a shovelful of dirt turning over.

State Sen. John Wozniak of Johnstown said Centaur has had its chance. Now it’s time to give someone else the opportunity.

“They just can’t pull the trigger,” Wozniak said yesterday.

A bill Wozniak introduced in May calls for converting the single, unawarded casino license — earmarked for Valley View Downs, to a stand-alone casino license with slots and table games. His plan would allow the casino to be located anywhere in the state, as well as pull the license from Foxwoods Casino, planned for Philadelphia but stalled.

“I don’t think that it is fair to the Pennsylvania taxpayers that developers tie up these licenses for years,” said Wozniak, who has served in the Legislature for 32 years.

The gaming law was set up to generate revenue to reduce property taxes, he noted.

“The harness racing commission intended for Centaur to provide revenue.” Wozniak said. “It is not fair to the people of Pennsylvania that (Centaur) has sat on this license and not created one job, not run one race, really done nothing.”

NO CHANCE

Wozniak said his “druthers” would be to place a casino in Johnstown, his home district. But the language is crafted “to free up the casino license, allowing a stand-alone casino to be located anywhere in the state — except in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.”

He said he is proposing “locating a casino where the market dictates, which is how it should have been from the start.”

Wozniak added “others are interested in the license if it is converted to a stand-alone casino.

“There is someone in Gettysburg who wants the license,” he said. “Political pressure may soon be ratcheted up to get moving on this license.”

The senator said Centaur was supposed to have begun harness racing at Valley View Downs by last September. After the gaming control board refused to issue a conditional license by July 15, 2009, Centaur defaulted on an almost $1 billion loan. It could not obtain alternative financing because of the collapse of the credit market, and in October declared bankruptcy.

He said sources at the harness commission have told him that because Centaur has a license, if the commission denies them a second two-year extension, “they could go to court and the court would give them a one-year extension to get their finances in order.

“I said let them go to court, keep them going,” he said. “They have had three years and done nothing.”

Wozniak said Centaur “knew when they received the racing license it would take $450 million to get a race track and casino up and running. Now that they’ve declared bankruptcy, who is going to give them $450 million? This is not going to happen.”

Wozniak said he understands the emotional impact this will have on Lawrence County where residents anticipate 1,000 construction jobs and 1,500 jobs when the racetrack/casino is operating.

“People will have to understand Centaur is not coming to Lawrence County. They are bankrupt. That (track) was placed on the border of Pennsylvania and Ohio as a political favor,” he said. “Let the private sector do what it does best — determine where the license will be.”

NO REQUEST

Jason Fleming, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, which oversees the state harness racing commission, confirmed Centaur has not yet requested a license extension.

The commission meets next on July 30 at The Meadows.

Typically, Fleming said, each licensee, which includes Centaur, reports either via letter or in person, at each commission meeting noting the number of days of racing, the amount of revenue raised and other information.

Centaur requested an extension on Aug. 8, 2008. Under terms of that extension, racing must begin by Sept. 5.

Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board spokesman Richard McGarvey said yesterday that “Centaur seems to be in a holding pattern.”

He said the company has not applied to be placed on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, July 29.

With regard to separating the casino license from the harness license, McGarvey noted, “There is something going on in the Legislature, and they can do what they want.”

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