Pennsylvania harness racing commissioner resigns, saying his employer forbids him to serve

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Pennsylvania harness racing commissioner Richard J. Welsh has stepped down, saying that he is no longer able to fulfill the role because his employer forbids it.

The timing of the resignation is noteworthy as it comes just six weeks before the commission was set to decide, perhaps once and for all, the fate of long-planned harness track and casino near New Castle.

Mr. Welsh, a senior vice president at Wells Fargo, said in a letter to Gov. Tom Corbett that "my employer has instituted a new policy which does not permit me to serve in any elected office or appointed board or commission."

The letter was sent Monday and received by the state Department of Agriculture, which oversees the harness panel, on Thursday.

The employer conflict had manifested at least once before.

In 2010, Mr. Welsh recused himself from a key commission vote because Well Fargo represented some of the creditors to Centaur Inc., the Indianapolis gambling outfit that once wanted to build a racetrack and casino in Lawrence County.

His resignation reduces the number of commission members from three to two and comes as Endeka Entertainment, a Philadelphia-based investment group and one of the successors to Centaur, tries to secure enough financing to build the Lawrence County racetrack, called Valley View Downs.

The commission has twice agreed to give the Endeka team extra time to meet the terms of the conditional harness racing license that the commission awarded to Endeka last year.

Last month, the commission gave Valley View's developers a 78-day extension, through May 31, to put together at least $170 million in financing to build the racetrack and casino.

Mr. Welsh has served on the commission since 2007, appointed by then-Gov. Ed Rendell.

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


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