Lawrence County track, casino financiers facing lawsuit

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In another legal setback for Lawrence County’s star-crossed harness racetrack and casino proposal, the project’s financiers have been sued by its longtime consultant, alleging breach of contract and seeking financial damages.

Anton Leppler, the former executive secretary of the state Harness Racing Commission who had been serving as consultant to the Lawrence Downs Casino and Racetrack project, sued American Harness Tracks LLC, Endeka Entertainment and companies’ principals.

The suit (explore below) was filed in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas’ Trial Division on July 31. In the complaint, Mr. Leppler names Endeka’s primary investor, Manuel Stamatakis, and the head of American Harness, Charles Long Jr. Mr. Leppler is seeking $576,000, plus interest, fees and punitive damages.

American Harness was the local consortium that rescued the project out of bankruptcy in 2010, when Centaur Inc. of Indianapolis filed for protection. Two years later, American Harness transferred its stock to the new owners, Philadelphia-based Endeka Entertainment.

Those current owners subsequently announced a plan to partner with Penn National Gaming, and in June 2013, Endeka and Penn National submitted to the state a plan to build a $160 million harness racing track and casino just west of New Castle.

Mr. Leppler, in his complaint, said he agreed to a three-year consulting contract with American Harness that ran from 2010 to Sept. 30, 2013, and was paid $192,000 annually.

But midway through the contract, in March 2012, American Harness began pushing Mr. Leppler to agree to have his contract “reassigned” to a third-party purchaser that would absorb the remainder of the contract. Soon, the terms of his contract were “unilaterally [altered] at a greatly reduced rate,” and eventually American Harness and Endeka stopped paying him altogether, the suit alleges.

“They set this guy up,” said Mr. Leppler’s attorney, Robert G. Mangold of Howard A. Taylor LLC, a Philadelphia law firm. “And after they didn’t need him anymore, they got rid of him … they said there was a purchaser of this contract, and it is apparent there is no purchaser.”

Attorneys for Endeka and Lawrence Downs could not be reached for comment.

 

Many critics — including lawmakers, horsemen and developers elsewhere in the state — believe it’s time for the state Harness Racing Commission to move on and revoke Endeka’s racing license.

Late last year, Erie’s Presque Isle Downs sued Endeka and the state Harness Racing Commission in an effort to force the state’s hand on the Lawrence County project.

Meanwhile, Endeka’s would-be financial partner, Penn National, is opening its Mahoning Valley Race Course on Sept. 27, with thoroughbred racing to begin Nov. 2. Mahoning racetrack, in Ohio, is about 20 miles away from New Castle.


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

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