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Presque Isle fights Lawrence County track, casino plans

Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

Erie-based Presque Isle Downs is attempting to derail plans for a Lawrence County harness racing track and casino, saying the market is already saturated and the state Harness Racing Commission failed to hold a hearing to address negative impacts on competitors.

Attorneys for Presque Isle Downs filed a 24-page petition with the commission asking for the harness racing license granted to Endeka Entertainment, parent company of the proposed Lawrence County facility, to be revoked.

The commission, which falls under the Department of Agriculture, is expected to discuss the issue at its scheduled meeting on Friday at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs in Wilkes-Barre.

Dan Vogler, chairman of the Lawrence County Commissioners, said he “strongly supports” the Lawrence County racetrack and casino plans and said the Presque Isle objection is “a day late and a dollar short.”

“Presque Isle's action indicates they must now feel this project is coming to fruition,” Vogler said. “My hope is that will be the case.”

Officials at Presque Isle referred comment to parent company MTR Gaming Group. Officials there did not return a call for comment. An attorney for Endeka Entertainment, James Doherty III, did not return calls.

“The Harness Racing Commission has not made a determination on what action it will take,” said Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Samantha Krepps.

An application for a slots and table games license for the proposed facility is pending before the Gaming Control Board.

Doherty responded earlier this month on behalf of Endeka, writing that Presque Isle failed to intervene in prior proceedings related to Endeka's license. He said Presque Isle is now attempting to have the harness racing license revoked after the fact.

“The four proceedings which Presque Isle references in its petition concluded more than six years ago, respectively. These proceedings are now closed,” Doherty wrote.

Presque Isle attacked Lawrence County's plan to finance $50 million of the facility through the Lawrence County Industrial Development Authority. The authority will float bonds and the money will be paid back from a portion of the casino revenue that otherwise would have gone to the county.

That plan “will place Presque Isle at a significant competitive disadvantage,” attorneys for Presque Isle wrote. “Endeka's need to rely upon $50 million is not only unprecedented and improper, it is also unqualified evidence that Endeka's intent to build a racino in Lawrence County is not financially suitable or even feasible.”

Vogler said the $50 million investment is worth the prospect of luring what he said would become the second-largest employer in Lawrence County.

“We want to see it succeed,” Vogler said.

The proposed facility is to be built on a 250-acre site in Mahoning Township, about 7 miles northwest of New Castle and adjacent to U.S. Route 422.

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com.

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