Pennsylvania Racino is a Go

Philadelphia’s Joseph Procacci (l.) has finalized a deal to take over and complete the Lawrence Downs Casino and Racing Resort, representing the state’s 14th and final casino license.

After 10 years and several owners, it appears the Lawrence Downs Casino and Racing Resort in Western Pennsylvania will finally be built, after Philadelphia produce magnate Joseph Procacci reportedly finalized an agreement to fully take over the long-troubled project.

Procacci, known locally as the “Tomato King” (his Procacci Brothers Sales Corp. is the largest tomato supplier on the East Coast), was one of the losing bidders for the second Philadelphia casino license, his South Philly Casino Revolution project losing out to the Live! casino now planned by Cordish Companies and Greenwood Racing.

The opportunity to take over Lawrence Downs was available because Procacci is the first potential licensee with the resources to finance and complete the project. The racino was first promised to Lawrence County when Pennsylvania’s gaming law was passed in 2004. By the time two rivals for the original license decided to combine forces to build the $210 million property, the recession was in full swing, and financing collapsed.

The proposed racino went through several owners until three years ago, when a group of Philadelphia investors formed Endeka Entertainment and secured the harness racing license for the racino. In May, Procacci put up a $50 million bond to pursue the casino license.

The Harness Racing Commission will need to approve the transfer of the racing license to Procacci Local Gaming, formed to maintain a 90 percent ownership in the casino and one-mile harness racing track in Mahoning, Pennsylvania. Procacci also will have to secure the last Category 1 casino license.

The other 10 percent of the project would be owned by a group headed by local businessman Chuck Long, a native of nearby New Castle, Pennsylvania. The facility would be operated by Chicago-based Merit Management Group, which is owned by New Castle native Joe Canfora.

Lawrence Downs will comprise a casino and one-mile harness racing track.