Boston, MA --- The preservation of existing harness racing jobs and of the entire Standardbred industry in Massachusetts was a determining factor to award the state’s single slots parlor license to Penn National Gaming Inc., which will develop the project at Plainridge Racecourse and complete purchase of the track.
“One of the things in the mandate (from the state legislature in passing the expanded gambling bill in 2011) was to save jobs and preserve industry. It doesn’t say anything about horse racing specifically, but that clearly had a factor in the conversation,” Massachusetts Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby said at a press conference following the official awarding of the license on Friday (Feb. 28).
On Thursday (Feb. 27) the five member commission voted 3-2 in favor of the PNGI proposal, and company officials were asked to return the following morning to give notice that they would accept the conditions of the license. After PNGI officials complied, the MGC voted 5-0 to make the award official.
“Obviously, this gives harness racing in the Commonwealth a very bright future. We’re happy to be a part of it,” said Timothy Wilmott, the president and chief executive officer of PNGI, who added the company is eager to start creating new jobs and revenue for the state.
Plainridge management had previously been on record that without the slots license, the track would be shuttered.
PNGI’s proposal beat competitors The Cordish Companies and the partnership of Greenwood Racing, which owns Parx Racing and Casino, and its partner Raynham Park, a horse and dog racing simulcast facility which hosted live greyhound racing before it was outlawed in the Bay State.
The Cordish Companies plan did not have any ties to racing or breeding, but Raynham Park owner George Carney had offered to host a 40-day live racing meet if it won the license.
The Cordish Companies received two votes from the MGC while the Greenwood/Raynham plan garnered none.
The awarding of the license to PNGI/Plainridge is a stunning reversal of fortune for the state’s harness industry, which was dealt a blow last August when the MGC ruled the track’s current ownership group as unsuitable to hold a gaming license after investigators turned up evidence that a senior executive had taken about $1.4 million in cash from the money room for personal use over time.
PNGI, which had been derailed in its earlier attempts to secure one of the three destination resort casino licenses to be awarded, plus a slots license in a different part of the state, then teamed up with Plainridge.
Wilmott, who planned to visit the track on Friday afternoon, said that officials will meet with their construction and design team on Monday and plan to have the permanent racino open in the second quarter of 2015. But if the MGC prefers, a temporary facility would be opened in the meantime.
Under state law, the slots parlor may have a maximum of 1,250 slot machines. The cost of the license is $25 million and a minimum investment in the facility of $125 million is required. Nine percent of the facility’s revenue and a portion of the license fee will go to the MGC’s Race Horse Development Fund to benefit both the Standardbred and Thoroughbred horsemen, and the fund will also receive a portion of the gross gaming revenue from the development of three resort casinos.
The MGC will award the first two casino licenses by the end of June. Thoroughbred track Suffolk Downs and gaming partner Mohegan Sun and Wynn Resorts are competing for the sole license designated for the Greater Boston area.
Plainridge is scheduled to open its 2014 live meet of 100 days on April 15.
by Lynne Snierson, USTA Web Newsroom Correspondent