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Pa. betting parlor closes temporarily

February 17, 1999|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - All bets were off Tuesday at Penn National Off-Track Wagering because of a contract dispute between Penn National Race Track and an association representing racehorse owners that forced the betting parlor to close temporarily.

The live racing agreement between the track in Grantville, Pa., and the Pennsylvania Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association expired at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, according to Fred Lipkin, Penn National director of publicity.

He said about 80 to 100 people who work at the Chambersburg betting parlor at 393 Bedington Blvd. were temporarily out of work. That includes those running the betting windows, bar and restaurant.

In 1997, about $21 million was wagered at the Chambersburg parlor, Lipkin said. He did not have figures for gross receipts from restaurant, bar and other operations there.

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The business is open seven days a week except for Christmas, he said.

"I really wish I could give you a time" the business will reopen, Lipkin said. A negotiating session was scheduled for Tuesday night.

Lipkin said the shutdown affects the racecourse north of Harrisburg and three other off-track wagering facilities in Johnstown, Reading and Williamsport, Pa. Two other facilities in York and Lancaster, Pa., were unaffected, as were two other tracks owned by Penn National Gaming Inc.: Pocono Downs in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and Charles Town Races in Charles Town, W.Va.

When the contract between the track and horsemen's association expired, simulcast wagering had to be suspended because of Pennsylvania State Horse Racing Commission regulations. Lipkin said the loss of business from that action made it impractical for the off-track wagering parlors to remain open.

"The horsemen didn't shut down Penn National, the Racing Commission did," Horsemen's Association President Joe Santanna said.

He said the shutdown affects about 600 association members who race horses at Penn National, along with jockeys, trainers and others who support thoroughbred racing.

Santanna said the stumbling block is the percentage of the net revenues the horsemen receive from wagering at Penn National.

Lipkin said the horsemen's share of the purse from wagering at Penn National is higher than at any other track in the state.

Lipkin said that share could be a bigger one if Penn National were able to introduce slot machines at the track soon. Under the contract, a variety of funding sources including interstate simulcasting, live races and telephone betting, contribute to the purse.

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed legislation last week to put three gambling questions on the ballot for the May 18 primary election. Voters would be asked whether the General Assembly should pass bills to allow slot machines at Pennsylvania's four racetracks, riverboat casinos and video poker parlors.

The Senate is scheduled to debate the measure when it returns from recess March 8.

Santanna declined to discuss specifics of the negotiations but said his group would try and meet daily with the track to reach an agreement.

The association represents more than 1,000 owners and trainers, 600 of whom participate in live racing. Jockeys are independent contractors.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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