The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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December 13, 2010

Racino appears headed for Lawrence County

NEW CASTLE — Promises that the final harness racetrack/casino will be built in Lawrence County resulted in a sudden change of partners Monday.

State Sen. John Wozniak, D-Westmont, has worked to bring the “racino” to the Johnstown area.

Word traveled quickly that assurances had been made to construct the racetrack/casino in Lawrence County.

“American Harness Tracks was certified as the winning bidder with the intention to stay in Lawrence County,” state Rep. Chris Sainato, D-Lawrence, announced Monday morning.

Lawrence County Commissioner Dan Vogler said Joe DeRosa, representing harness license holder Centaur, notified him Monday that objections to the Oct. 20 auction had been withdrawn, that American Harness Tracks was named as the successful bidder and that Merit Gaming of Chicago is partnering with American Harness.

“I was told they would begin negotiations to find a way to work together to develop the property in Lawrence County,” Vogler said. “I can only see this as a favorable development.”

Vogler said DeRosa is expected to provide members of the Pennsylvania Harness Racing Commission with an update at their meeting Thursday in Harrisburg.

Wozniak said the last time he talked to American Harness Tracks was in October when the business won the auction.

At that time, American Harness believed that it would be able to move the project site but was never sure of that, he said.

“I guess we will find out Thursday,” Wozniak said.

Wozniak said the argument all along was that the private sector should determine where the racetracks and casino should be located. He said the idea of placing them in certain areas was inserted into legislation by political muscle.

Sainato said the partnership could ensure that finances will be available to bring the project to fruition.

“I want this track/casino built in my district and will do all I can and welcome any partnership that results in the financial resources to get this built,” he said.

“The license that Centaur is selling is as is-where is. There aren’t a lot of options,” Sainato  said. “To obtain the license then try to move it will result in major problems.”

Prior to a hearing Monday before U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kevin J. Carey to confirm American Harness Tracks as the winning bidder for the assets of Valley View Downs, Merit Gaming withdrew its objection to the Oct. 20 auction. During the hearing, Bedford Development Management Co. withdrew its objections to the auction results.

Bedford, whose principals include Lawrence County developer Carmen Shick, had objected to the auction results, saying it had offered the highest bid: $7 million, with $5.5 million due by closing and another $1.5 million on the one-year anniversary of the track’s opening. American Harness bid $5.6 million at the auction.

Merit contended that it and Bedford had agreed to submit a joint bid for the assets, but were denied the opportunity, resulting in both filing objections.

Attorney Frank Salpietro, representing Bedford, said Monday morning that he was contacted by Merit attorneys at 9:30 a.m., just prior to the 10 a.m. hearing.

“Merit was withdrawing its objections and joining with American Harness,” Salpietro said. “They said they were taking this action on the strength of representations to them that the track will be built in Lawrence County.”

 

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