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Gaming Commission weighs Penn National Gaming bid for slots license

Posted by Your Town  September 4, 2013 06:01 PM

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BOSTON, SEPT. 4, 2013….With Plainridge Racecourse blocked from pursuing a slots license because of its former executive’s actions, the Gaming Commission is weighing whether to allow Penn National Gaming to pick up where Plainville left off, as town voters decide whether to approve the slots agreement Tuesday.

“Every operator’s trying to find a location,” Penn National attorney Walter Sullivan told the commission Wednesday. He said, “The town is on board with this.” “

The commission approved the slots parlor developer’s notice for a Sept. 10 vote with an addition that the commission had not yet approved the transfer from Ourway Realty to the national racing and gambling firm.

Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby and Commissioner James McHugh both said they “lean” toward approving the transfer, while Crosby said the decision would need to be “bulletproof.” The commission made plans to meet with the group on Friday, and potentially engage in an adjudicatory hearing before making a decision.

“This is all part of our keep-lawyers-employed strategy,” Crosby quipped.

Early in August, the Gaming Commission announced it had voted against Plainridge’s suitability for a license, following revelations that former track president Gary Piontkoski made personal cash withdrawals from the track's money room.

“The option is to purchase the property and the assets. There’s no involvement of Plainridge in the ongoing and future operation if we’re so lucky to get the license and move forward,” Sullivan told the News Service after the hearing. He said, “We’re hoping to keep the employees employed. There are a whole bunch of people who work at that track every day. They care about racing. They care about the community they live in. They had nothing to do with what occurred and they deserve to be able to keep their jobs.”

Plainridge’s owners had previously secured a host community agreement and set a Sept. 10 election date, before the commission nixed the proposal.

Gaming commissioners questioned whether the law allowed for a new gaming entity to step into an agreement it had not negotiated and make itself subject to a community referendum arranged by a previous slots developer.

McHugh wondered whether voters would be aware of the change at the top of the project.

“It’s a small town. Everyone in town’s going to know,” said town counsel Jonathan Silverstein, of the firm Kopelman and Paige.

Crosby said critics of the shift should have a chance to air their thoughts at the next meeting.

“The town should be able to compete like other towns. It’s not their fault, what occurred,” said Sullivan.

Penn National was blocked in its attempt to establish a slots parlor in Tewksbury when Town Meeting roundly rejected a necessary zoning change.

Sullivan said the Pennsylvania-based gambling company was drawn to the track, which features harness racing.

“If you look at the history of Penn, started out as a racetrack. Most of its business is pari-mutuel racing. That’s where their roots are,” Sullivan said.

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