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Developers seek license for $225M Lawrence County casino, racetrack

| Saturday, June 1, 2013, 12:18 a.m.

A proposal calling for the development of a $225 million racing and gambling facility in Lawrence County was submitted Friday to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

Penn National Gaming Inc. announced that it and partner Endeka Entertainment LP submitted the proposal as part of the application for the last state casino license earmarked for a harness racing track.

If the proposed Lawrence Downs Casino and Racing Resort becomes a reality and hires the projected 1,200 full- and part-time employees, it would become the largest employer in the county, said Dan Vogler, chairman of Lawrence County's board of commissioners, which has committed $50 million to the project.

“This has been our No. 1 priority as a board of commissioners because of the potential for significant economic impact for our county and neighboring counties,” Vogler said.

The Pennsylvania Harness Racing Commission approved the transfer last fall of American Harness Racing stock to Philadelphia-based Endeka. American Harness had bought the project from a bankrupt Indianapolis-based casino company.

In return, Endeka had to verify by Friday that at least $170 million was available for construction; that application would be made for a casino license; and that the project — formerly known as Valley View Downs — would be built in Lawrence County.

“With 11 wholly owned or joint venture pari-mutuel racing facilities, Penn National owns the most racing facilities of any operator in North America,” said Tim Wilmott, president and chief operating officer of Penn National Gaming. “Lawrence Downs ... is a clear indication of our belief in the industry's future.”

The resort would be built on a 250-acre site off Route 422 in Mahoning, about 60 miles north of Pittsburgh.

It will feature a harness-racing track; about 1,250 slot machines at opening; about 40 live table games and 10 poker tables; and surface parking for 2,000 vehicles, according to Penn National.

“Our initial review will begin next week to see what we have and what still might be needed to complete the application,” said Douglas Harbach, a spokesman for the gaming control board.

The approval process — which includes extensive background checks and public hearings — usually takes nine to 12 months to complete, Harbach said.

Michael Hasch is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7820 or mhasch@tribweb.com.

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