Board Hears Testimony on Lawrence Downs

Pennsylvania regulators heard testimony from local residents in support of a planned Lawrence County racino, and warnings of saturation from the GM of Presque Isle Downs.

Competitors oppose Pennsylvania casino project

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board held a hearing last week to gauge public reaction to the planned Lawrence Downs casino and harness racing track in Lawrence County, which is vying for the state’s final Category 1 racetrack casino license.

The board heard testimony from local residents in favor of the casino, and a warning of oversaturation in testimony from Jeff Favre, general manager of Presque Isle Downs in Erie, which is 75 miles northwest of the planned racino.

Residents attending the meeting were uniformly supportive of the project, which would create 1,000 construction jobs and 600 full- and part-time jobs after completion, estimated at 18 months. The $210 million development would include a casino with 1,000 slot machines and 36 table games, plus a one-mile harness racing track. The project is a joint venture between Endeka Entertainment LP and Penn National Gaming.

“The project will stimulate needed economic development in our community,” testified Chuck Long, a New Castle businessman member of the development group. “This community has given me and my family so much. I felt the need to get involved in some pretty dark days for this project.”

Long and his American Harness Tracks joined with Philadelphia-based Endeka, partly owned by Philadelphia Flyers President Ed Snider, in 2012 after the first two developers of the project first known as Valley View Downs failed to come up with financing. Penn National was then brought in to manage the casino.

Residents attending the meeting cheered the local developers and booed officials who called for the board to deny the license. In addition to Favre, Craig Clark, general manager of Pittsburgh’s Rivers Casino, testified in opposition to the project.

Favre testified that the regional market, which contains two Pittsburgh-area casinos, the Erie property and Mountaineer in West Virginia—as well as new properties in Ohio—is “reaching a point of saturation and cannibalism. He suggested that the Erie casino could face layoffs and the local economy would suffer from the new competition, asking the board to exercise “careful and diligent consideration in determining whether or not to approve this project.”

Clark’s testimony focused on the fact that county commissioners provided $50 million in economic development bonds to aid in the financing, to be repaid with the annual local share of casino revenues.

“Public money has not—and should not—be used to develop casinos,” Clark said. “That’s not the level playing field this gaming board has promised Pennsylvania casinos.” Clark, as well as officials of the Meadows racino south of Pittsburgh, are urging the board to move the last racino license to central Pennsylvania, where the concentration of casinos is not as great.