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Gaming boss says racing is track 'centerpiece'

May 19, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA.

Charles Town Races & Slots is committed to preserving horse racing, and the company that owns the oval plans about $200 million in improvements to the track if table games are added to the facility, a track official said Thursday.

If table games are added at the track, a 500-room hotel would be built, as well as at least 25,000 square feet in conference meeting space, said Peter Carlino, chairman and chief executive officer of Penn National Gaming Inc., which owns the track.

Carlino addressed the Jefferson County Commission on Thursday morning to dispel rumors that track owners are not committed to horse racing and to talk about other issues involving the track.

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Carlino said some within the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association have stated that the track is not interested in horse racing and the focus is on slot machines.

"That's an utterly preposterous notion," Carlino said.

Horse racing was losing money when Penn National Gaming took over, and while the sport is not inherently profitable, track officials have been able to return it to a profit-making operation, Carlino said.

He noted that track owners have built a new training track and barns.

"Racing is the core, the centerpiece. It's what makes Charles Town, Charles Town," Carlino said.

Commissioner Jane Tabb said it was refreshing to hear about the track's plans and its feelings on race issues from "the top guy."

Carlino and commission members discussed state legislation that would allow casino table games at the thoroughbred track. A bill to allow table games at the track was considered during the last session of the Legislature, but it was criticized by lawmakers and other officials because it proposed to take away the rights of Jefferson County residents to control gaming through elections.

Jefferson County voters have the ability to put the track's right to have slot machines on the ballot.

Under the table games bill that was considered, county voters would have lost their chance to have a referendum again on slot machines or table games if they approved table games in a county election.

Carlino and John Finamore, senior vice president of regional operations for Penn National Gaming, expressed concerns about being able to protect the company's investment at the track with a recall provision for gambling existing in state law. Carlino said he would be willing to consider a provision that would allow for a recall election within two years for table games.

"I don't see it getting reversed. You don't put 700 people out of work," Carlino said, referring to the number of new jobs that would be created at the track if table games were allowed.

If table games are allowed at the track, Carlino said Penn National Gaming remains committed to making about $250 million in improvements to the track such as building a 500-room hotel and building the conference space.

The track already plans a 150-room hotel.

Commission member Rusty Morgan said he would like to see more than 25,000 square feet of conference room space at the track, and Carlino said he would be open to that.

Dale Manuel praised Penn National for the way it has built out the facility and the way it has stuck to its plan.

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