Valley View downs overcomes big hurdle

By MARY grzebieniak


The development of the former Valley View Downs casino/harness-racing track has overcome a major hurdle.

The Pennsylvania Harness Racing Commission on Tuesday approved the stock transfer application of American Harness Tracks LLC, which purchased the Valley View Downs racetrack/casino project from the bankrupt Centaur LLC of Indianapolis.

“Now we are literally in a horse race with the state of Ohio,” commented Lawrence County Commissioner Richard DeBlasio, referring to plans by Penn National Gaming Inc. to relocate a horse-racing gaming license to Austintown, where they would like to build a $200 million facility.

The news came to county commissioners by speaker phone from Lawrence Commissioner Dan Vogler after he attended the harness-racing commission’s meeting in Harrisburg.

The harness-racing commission imposed some stiff conditions on American Harness Tracks for the award of the harness-racing license, including a requirement that American Harness prove within 60 days it has financing for the $150 million project in place as well as a management agreement to operate the facility.

The license also is contingent on American Harness obtaining a Category 1 gaming license from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to allow slot machines and table games at a casino in the proposed development.

Richard McGarvey of the Pennsylvania Gaming Commission said in order to obtain a gaming license, American Harness will now have to fill out extensive applications, undergo in-depth background investigations for all individuals and corporations involved in the development, and possibly have another public hearing in Lawrence County and in Harrisburg. The process could take a year, McGarvey said.

Vogler said the order also specified the gaming license be subject to all previous orders of the harness racing commission regarding Valley View Downs, which is located in Mahoning Township here.

He said he understood this to mean that the racetrack stays in Lawrence County because this is “an element of those orders.” A Pennsylvania legislator had suggested moving the license to another part of the state after Centaur declared bankruptcy.

DeBlasio said he spoke by phone Monday with Charles Knoll of American Harness as well as Joseph Canfora, Chicago businessman, New Castle native and founder of Merit Management, who has been in talks for months with Knoll about partnering on the project.

DeBlasio said the men asked whether commissioners and the region are committed to the project. DeBlasio said he gave them an unqualified yes.

Vogler said there is regional support for the track, pointing out that also attending the harness racing commission meeting were Beaver County Commissioner Rob Matzie, state Rep. Mark Longetti of Mercer County, D-7th, and state Rep. Chris Sainato of New Castle, D-9th. Mercer County Commissioner Brian Beader also reiterated his county’s support for the development here.

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