Valley View Downs track/casino draws another extension

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The leash extended to Valley View Downs has gotten just a bit longer, thanks to some assistance from one of the country's largest gaming operators.

The developers behind Valley View, a racetrack and casino that has been on the drawing board in Lawrence County for a decade, have received a 78-day extension until May 31 to put together enough financing to build the casino.

The extension, requested on Wednesday and granted Thursday by state Harness Racing Commission Executive Director George Crawford in a two-paragraph order, means the Philadelphia-based investment group known as Endeka Entertainment gets yet another chance to come up with at least $170 million in financing availability for Valley View.

The letter from Mr. Crawford also acknowledged what the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette first reported in February -- that Endeka is in talks with casino giant Penn National to operate, and perhaps buy a piece of, the harness racing operation, in exchange for financing.

That Penn National Gaming Inc. -- the Reading, Pa., casino company that operates racetracks across the U.S. -- is a potential partner to Endeka is notable in that Penn is also looking to build a casino right across the border from New Castle, near Youngstown, Ohio.

Penn intends to move one of its Ohio racing licenses cross-state, and intends to build a new $125 million horse track and video lottery terminal facility -- similar to a slots casino -- with plans to open by 2014.

The Youngstown-area casino would be just 20 miles away from the New Castle casino, and Ohio's tax structure is more favorable to gaming operators than Pennsylvania's.

A call to Penn National's top corporate development official was not returned Thursday.

Thursday was the latest "deadline" by which Endeka was supposed to demonstrate its financial viability, thanks to a 45-day deadline extension granted in January by the harness commission.

The new May 31 extension is the third one granted to the developers since last year, when they bought Valley View Downs assets and were subsequently granted a conditional harness racing license.

In his letter, Mr. Crawford said he was heartened by the "information regarding ongoing negotiations between Endeka and Penn National Gaming Inc. regarding the management of the proposed integrated racing gaming facility."

News of the talks with Penn National "has given this commission optimism that the project can be completed."

As long as Valley View and Endeka hold onto the rights to the harness racing track, they also hold the de facto right to apply for one of the state's last remaining casino licenses. If Endeka and Valley View were to lose the harness racing license, they also lose the ability to apply for the casino license, rebooting the process for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

Dan Vogler, Lawrence County Commissioner, said the commissioners believe the Penn National talks are "very encouraging ... we have a site that is far superior to the proposed site in Ohio."

Endeka's primary investors are Philadelphia insurance executive Manuel Stamatakis, property developer Peter De-Paul and Edward Snider, chairman of Comcast Spectacor, which owns the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team.

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


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