Presque Isle Downs sues harness commission, Endeka Entertainment

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Erie's Presque Isle Downs is suing the state Harness Racing Commission and Philadelphia's Endeka Entertainment in an effort to force the state's hand on the long-planned, long-stalled Lawrence County racetrack and casino proposal.

The complaint, filed in Commonwealth Court Tuesday afternoon, says the Harness Racing Commission has "shirked its duties and refuses to conduct a substantive review of the existing proposal put forth by Endeka."

In so doing, Presque Isle claims, the harness commission is disregarding its statutory mandate. It is seeking a "writ of mandamus" ordering the harness commission to do its job.

Endeka is the latest in a line of developers seeking to build a racetrack casino to the west of New Castle. Presque Isle is about 90 miles to the north of the would-be Lawrence County casino, to be called Lawrence Downs Casino and Racetrack, and believes Lawrence Downs' existence would hurt Presque Isle's own bottom line.

In September, Presque Isle petitioned the state harness commission to revoke the racing license that was conditionally awarded to Endeka in July 2012. The next month, Endeka responded to the petition, asking the harness commission to dismiss it. The commission didn't act on Presque Isle's request, prompting this week's lawsuit.

Presque Isle's complaint suggests that the Lawrence County proposal has changed substantially since it was proposed a decade ago; that revenue projections for the location have dropped over the years; and that Endeka's market studies concerning the feasibility of the project are outdated. Presque Isle also questions the propriety of a $50 million grant that Endeka stands to receive from Lawrence County, public funds that will help finance the construction of the casino.

The state, Presque Isle concludes, would best be served putting a casino somewhere else, uncoupling the license from the Lawrence County project.

The lawsuit also notes that Endeka's new partner on the Lawrence County project, Pennsylvania-based gaming operator Penn National Gaming, also intends to build its own casino about 20 miles away from the Lawrence Downs site, near Youngstown, Ohio.

Endeka and Penn National submitted an application to the state Gaming Control Board in June, proposing to build a $160 million harness racing track and casino with 1,250 slot machines, 40 table games and a restaurant.

Neither the harness commission nor the attorney for the Endeka responded to requests for comment by Wednesday evening.

Bill Toland: btoland@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2625.


Bill Toland: btoland@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2625. First Published November 13, 2013 12:47 PM

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