Proposed racino takes giant step toward reality

By Mary Grzebieniak


The proposed $150 million racetrack/casino development off U.S. Route 422 in Lawrence County took a giant step toward becoming a reality this week.

American Harness Tracks, LLC met a Sept. 12 deadline by providing the Pennsylvania Harness Racing Commission with proof they have financing commitments for the project as well as a fully executed management contract, Lawrence County commissioners said Tuesday.

The Harness Racing Commission had set the Sept. 12 deadline as a condition for transferring the harness racing license held by the project’s former owners to American Harness Tracks.

Merit Management of Chicago, headed by New Castle native Joseph Canfora, was given a contract to manage the facility which developers say would provide 1,000 permanent full-time jobs and 1,200 construction jobs.

The commission will now review the documents and could take action on the harness racing license at its Sept. 29 meeting.

No special meetings are planned before then, commissioners confirmed Tuesday.

Earlier this month, county commissioners gave a shot in the arm to the project by announcing their formation of a unique partnership with the track developer by pledging up to $50 million to the development from future gaming revenues the county would receive from the “racino” under state law.

The private/public partnership is the first of its kind in Pennsylvania and possibly the first in the nation, according to the county’s investment banking and brokerage firm.

Proof of financial commitments to the project is a major step because the loss of initial financial commitments and failure to obtain new financing contributed to the bankruptcy of Valley View Downs and its parent company, Centaur of Indianapolis, and resulted in the eventual bankruptcy sale of the project to American Harness Tracks, a Pittsburgh firm.

Once the harness racing license is transferred, the project must also obtain a gaming license for casino slots from the Pennsylvania Gaming Commission before it can become a reality.

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