A racetrack casino near Erie wants the state Harness Racing Commission to revoke the license that has been conditionally awarded to an investment group hoping to build its own harness track and casino in Lawrence County.
Presque Isle Downs Inc. filed paperwork Monday asking the commission for permission to intervene in the ongoing licensing issue involving Endeka Entertainment, the Philadelphia investment group that now holds the rights to the long-delayed Lawrence Downs Casino and Racetrack, formerly known as Valley View Downs.
Penn National, the nation's largest racetrack gaming operator, would be a minority partner in the Lawrence Downs operation, if and when it is completed. Penn National also plans to build a racetrack near Youngstown, Ohio -- about 20 miles from New Castle, which is fueling Presque Isle Downs' concerns about regional revenue cannibalism.
Presque Isle Downs, in its petition, said the harness commission at minimum has an "obligation to hold a hearing to address the severe negative impacts" the Lawrence County casino could have on in-state competitors.
The two casinos would be about 90 miles apart.
Presque Isle Downs' lawyers -- both its hired attorneys from Montgomery County-based Elliott Greenleaf and Siedzikowski, and its in-house counsel at MTR Gaming Group, which owns the Erie track -- argue that "the best interest[s] of racing" aren't advanced by another casino in a saturated market, and that the license would be better served in someplace like York County.
"The Lawrence County site and location was selected and approved at a time when there was no competition from the Youngstown area," said Frederick Santarelli, an attorney for Presque Isle Downs.
He also questioned the propriety of Lawrence County's plan to help finance the construction of the casino by selling $50 million in bonds and using future casino proceeds to repay that debt.
"The process here has been less than transparent," Mr. Santarelli said. "There's really been no thoughtful, substantive review of these changes [in] circumstances" since the license was first awarded to the Lawrence County project in 2007.
He said other casinos in Western Pennsylvania, most notably The Meadows in Washington County, also will be affected by the Lawrence Downs project and could be a candidate to file its own petition for intervention.
Lawrence County has held the rights to build Pennsylvania's seventh, and final, racetrack casino in one form or another since the two groups vying for the harness license -- Centaur Inc. and Ambrosia Enterprises -- compromised six years ago and agreed to build the project in Lawrence County, instead of in Beaver County as Centaur had first preferred.
But there's been no physical progress at the site, and the project's assets have changed hands twice, first being sold by Centaur at a bankruptcy auction to a Pittsburgh investment group called American Harness Tracks, then again last year, when American Harness Tracks sold most of its stake to Endeka.
Endeka and Penn National, in an application submitted to the state Gaming Control Board in June, said they want to build a $160 million harness racing track and casino with 1,250 slot machines, 40 table games and a restaurant.
After a review of the filing, Endeka's attorneys said Tuesday the company does not believe the petition filed by Presque Isle has merit.
Bill Toland: email@example.com or 412-263-2625.