Lawmakers consider slots at Pa. racetracks

February 02, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Pennsylvania lawmakers are considering giving Pennsylvania's four horse tracks permission to have slot machines to compete with legalized gambling in West Virginia and other states in the region.

[cont. from front page]

Pennsylvania bettors are being drawn to gambling attractions at tracks in states like Virginia and Delaware, and track owners in Pennsylvania are worried about the trend, said Steve Crawford, chief of staff for Rep. Jeff Coy, D-Franklin.

In West Virginia, Charles Town Races attracts patrons from throughout eastern Pennsylvania.

About 10 percent of the Charles Town track's business comes from racing fans in Franklin and Fulton counties, Gettysburg, York and as far north as Harrisburg, said Bill Bork Jr., director of marketing at Charles Town Races.

While three of West Virginia's four racing tracks likely would be displeased by the Pennsylvania proposal, Charles Town Races will be neutral, said Bork.


While expanded gambling in Pennsylvania could hurt Charles Town Races, the company that runs the local track also owns two thoroughbred tracks in Pennsylvania that would benefit from the plan being considered by the Pennsylvania Legislature.

"We're fortunate in that respect," Bork said Monday.

Although a published report Monday said West Virginia's tracks could be hit hard by Pennsylvania's plan, Bork said the impact on Charles Town is a "real big guess."

Penn National Gaming Inc., which bought Charles Town Races in 1997, also owns Penn National Race Course near Harrisburg, and Pocono Downs in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

The local president of the Horsemen's Benevolent Protective Association said workers at the track are not overly concerned about Pennsylvania's plan to expand gambling.

Richard C. Watson said the fact that Penn National Race Course is 120 miles from Charles Town may save the local track from negative effects of expanded gambling in Harrisburg.

Pocono Downs and Philadelphia Park are about 200 miles away and The Meadows, a harness track near Pittsburgh, is further away.

"We got a little buffer zone there," said Watson.

Watson said the only thing that would concern him about the Pennsylvania plan is if it would allow slot machines at off-track betting parlors, like Chambersburg Off-Track Wagering, which is owned by Penn National.

There is no plan to allow slot machines at off-track betting parlors, said Crawford.

John Cavacini, president of the West Virginia Racing Association, declined to comment on how any plan to expand casino gambling in Pennsylvania would affect Charles Town.

But Cavacini said he would be "scared to death" if he were operating Mountaineer Race Track, a thoroughbred track in the Northern Panhandle, or Wheeling Downs greyhound track in Wheeling, W.Va. Both tracks are within minutes of the Pennsylvania border and depend heavily on Pennsylvania patrons for business, state racing officials said.

"We're keeping a close watch on it," said Cavacini.

Pennsylvania lawmakers also are considering legalizing video poker machines and allowing riverboat casinos, which would mostly operate in the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia areas, said Crawford. Lawmakers there are considering a proposal to raise Pennsylvania's debt ceiling to help fund new sports stadiums.

Crawford said all the issues together make for a busy session, and he is not sure all of them can be handled all at once.

Gambling legislation approved by the Legislature would go to Pennsylvania voters in a referendum.

"You can imagine the politics at play here and the controversy," said Crawford.

The Herald-Mail Articles