Lawrence residents support casino-racetrack license, but other state casino operators object
Leaders of three Western Pennsylvania casinos on Thursday dampened a mostly feel-good public hearing for a proposed Lawrence County racetrack and casino with calls for state gambling regulators to spare the market another high-stakes business, especially one backed by taxpayers' money.
“Public money has not — and should not — be used to develop casinos,” Craig Clark, general manager of Pittsburgh's Rivers Casino, told members of the state Gaming Control Board during a nearly five-hour meeting in Mahoning, about 60 miles north of Pittsburgh near New Castle.
Clark said all of the state's 12 operating casinos “had to finance their own development.” Approving Lawrence Downs Casino and Racing Resort would change the rules, he said.
“That's not the level playing field this Gaming Board has promised Pennsylvania casinos,” Clark said.
At stake is the state's final racetrack and casino — or racino — license. Seven were approved when lawmakers legalized casino gambling in 2004. One was promised to Lawrence County, which has struggled for a decade to find a developer who could pull off the project.
Officials with Endeka Entertainment and Penn National Gaming believe they now can build Lawrence Downs, a $210 million development with a one-mile harness racing track and a casino with 1,000 slot machines and 36 table games.
Developers said the racino would make 1,000 construction jobs and could be built within 18 months. Once in operation, it would provide 600 full- and part-time jobs.
“The project will stimulate needed economic development in our community,” said Charles “Chuck” Long, a New Castle businessman and local face of the development group. “This community has given me and my family so much. I felt the need to get involved in some pretty dark days for this project.”
Previous attempts fell through when the first developer went bankrupt and the second could not secure funding.
Long's group, American Harness Tracks, joined forces in 2012 with Endeka, a Philadelphia-area outfit headed by Manuel Stamatakis, founder and CEO of Capital Management Enterprises, and fellow investors Ed Snider, owner of the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers; Peter DePaul, president of the DePaul Group; and attorney Thomas Leonard, Philadelphia's former city controller.
To manage operations, Endeka attracted Penn National, North America's largest racetrack gaming operator, which also controls a racino being built 20 miles away outside Youngstown, Ohio.
To help finance Lawrence Downs, county commissioners ponied up $50 million in bonds to be repaid with the annual local share paid by the casino. That money typically pays for economic development projects, which is what commissioners say the casino will be.
“Competition should not be feared. It should be embraced,” said Dan Vogler, county commission chairman.
Dozens of other elected and civic officials as well as local residents voiced support for the project.
“We have a lot more (casinos) than we once had, but we need to learn how to compete,” said state Rep. Chris Sainato, D-New Castle. “You don't have a promise of making as much money as you once dreamed.”
Many in the crowd of about 200 people booed Washington County Commissioner Diana Irey Vaughan out of the room after she urged the board to deny the license for several reasons, including use of public money to build a facility in a saturated market with declining revenues.
Operators of The Meadows Racetrack & Casino in North Strabane, Washington County, along with the Rivers Casino and Presque Isle Downs & Casino in Erie, said the state would be better served to find a home for its last racino in central Pennsylvania.
“It's not just about Lawrence,” said Sean Sullivan, Meadows general manager and vice president. “It's about what is the right decision for the commonwealth.”
Jason Cato is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7936 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Penn State succumbs to No. 13 Ohio State in two overtimes
- Pitt notebook: Conner quietly surpasses 1,000 yards rushing
- Syrian border town emerges as pivot point in Islamic State fight
- Pittsburgh Mills mall stability questioned
- Springdale to get kayak launch, other riverfront improvements
- Butler County Historical Society acquires 1928 Austin C Cab Van
- CDC’s misinformation spreads faster than Ebola virus
- Pirates must weigh risk, reward in attempt to sign Martin
- Giants surge past Royals, even World Series
- Starkey: Chryst missed his only shot
- Penguins’ Crosby OK with Neal comments about trade