Chances grow for Plainridge, special vote next month

12:57 PM 15 Aug 2013 NZST
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Plainridge Racecourse
PLAINVILLE, MA — Even though the state gaming commission has decreed that Ourway Realty, LLC — which operates Plainridge Racecourse — is unsuitable for the state’s one and only slot parlor license, selectmen are holding out hope with their decision to go ahead with a special election next month to let voters weigh in on the host community agreement required as part of the licensing process.

The special election is slated for Sept. 10, with polls open 7 a.m.-8 p.m., at the Wood School on Messenger Street/Rte. 106.

Selectmen on Monday voted unanimously to go ahead with the election.

Town Administrator Joseph Fernandes said he met with the track’s management is pursuing possible new ownership that could make the state gaming commission more amenable to granting a license to the Plainridge site.

"There’s still some chance that something could happen there," Fernandes said.

But if the town cancelled the vote on the host community agreement, he said, "that eliminates any chance" of new owners having the ability to seek the slot parlor license.

Last week, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission issued its finding disqualifying Ourway Realty, LLC from the candidate pool for the slot parlor license, revealing what commissioners called "troubling" financial mismanagement that had occurred under former track president Gary Piontkowski’s leadership.

Piontkowski, who has been unreachable for comment, retired unexpectedly this spring, citing health concerns. The commission’s investigation as part of its process to determine the track’s suitability for a slot parlor license alleges Piontkowski had been taking money amounting to more than $1 million from the track’s money room for years.

The track’s financial officer resigned without warning in late July, on the same day the commission held its suitability hearing. The commissioners also expressed concern about the investors’ claims they knew nothing of the financial practices that had been taking place.

Fernandes said in spite of the controversy, "the reality still exists" that there is a choice that can be made.

A host community agreement, approved by the town’s voters, must be in place before any formal applications for the slot license can be submitted. There is plenty of competition for that license with at least four other interests eying it.

Selectmen signed the agreement in late June, and have touted it as an especially generous pact that would bring the town millions in new revenue if a slot parlor were to become a reality at Plainridge.

"The host community agreement is, I think, very beneficial to the town," said Board of Selectmen Chairman Robert Fennessy earlier this month, citing "guaranteed income" from gaming and property taxes.

Selectmen’s decision to go ahead with the special eletion has its detractors.

"I am disappointed by what the selectmen have done, but not surprised," said Mary-An Greanier, a vocal opponent of the slot parlor plan. "For 15 years, they blindly put their trust in Gary Piontkowski and the other owners of Plainridge. When the financial problems were ‘discovered,’ Plainridge continued to lie to Plainville, even while we were in negotiations with them."

Greanier continued, "rather than ask the Gaming Enforcement Division of the AGO to investigate Plainridge and/or instruct our town counsel to look into a lawsuit against Plainridge for negotiating in bad faith, the selectmen continue to have dealings with these businessmen who have been deemed unfit to hold a gaming license."

"Plainridge is looking for a way to profit from this mess, and the selectmen are ready to sell us to the highest — or any — bidder," Greanier asserted. "If Plainridge is bought by another applicant, the people of Plainville will have little or no opportunity to do our own vetting before the Sept. 10 special election. Worse yet, if there is no buyer before Sept. 10, and Plainville votes ‘Yes’ on the referendum, it is possible that an applicant could buy Plainridge after the election and still be in position to get the slots license."

The selectmen have "added insult to injury," she said, "by making this last ditch attempt for a racetrack casino, no matter the impact on the town. Andrea Soucy, Rob Rose, and Bob Fennessey might want to let go of their 15-year ‘dream’ of slots at the racetrack and get down to the business of making Plainville a place where sustainable businesses that pay a living wage want to locate."

Among the highlights of the host community agreement is $1.5 million in real and property tax income, with 2.5 percent annual increases and additional increases if the facility were to be expanded beyond 170,000 square feet; a $100,000 annual community impact fee, which would increase if more than 1,250 slot machines were approved later, in addition to $2.7 million annually for the first five years, then 1.5 percent of gross gaming revenue during years six through 10 and 2 percent starting in year 11.

A copy of the host community agreement can be found at the town website, http://www.plainville.ma.us.

by Heather McCarron (reprinted with permission by Wicked Local Plainville)


 

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