Plainridge looking at quick sale to save slot bid

Disqualified from a statewide competition to develop a slot parlor, owners of Plainridge Racecourse are pursuing a quick sale of the track in a last-ditch effort to keep the site alive in the slot machine sweepstakes and preserve live harness racing in Massachusetts.

The Plainville property has drawn “significant interest” from investors in the days after state casino regulators ruled the current ownership group unsuitable to hold a state casino license, according to a person briefed on the discussions who was not authorized to speak publicly. Talks with potential new owners are active and ongoing.

The biggest obstacle to a sale may be time — the state gambling commission has set an Oct. 4 deadline for final plans for each slot parlor proposal, and any new owner would have to undergo an extensive background check by state investigators.

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The gambling commission has not yet said if it would accept a new owner at this late stage of the contest.

It was the background check that tripped up Plainridge, the first slot applicant to apply for a license in 2012. The track at the junction of Interstate 495 and Route 1 had long been considered a leading contender, until state investigators discovered that former Plainridge President Gary T. Piontkowski took about $1.4 million in cash from the track’s money room in regular small withdrawals over several years.

Investigators revealed the withdrawals to the track’s major partners, who claimed to know nothing about them. The partners forced Piontkowski out in April and instituted new internal controls, but the revelations proved extremely damaging to the track’s application. The state gambling commission on Monday disqualified the Plainridge group from the slots competition, leaving four other developers in the contest.

Track officials have said for years that the state’s only operating harness racing track could not continue indefinitely without slot machines, and the failure of Plainridge’s slot bid has devastated the state’s harness racing community.