The Associated Press

Penn National Reaches Option To Buy Plainridge Track

BOSTON — Penn National is making a third bid to enter the Massachusetts gambling market, signing an option to buy the Plainridge harness racetrack in a late push to win the state’s only slots parlor license.

Under the agreement announced Tuesday, Wyomissing, Pa.-based Penn National would acquire the 89-acre site in Plainville if the company was awarded the slots license by the state gambling commission.

Financial terms of the transaction were not immediately revealed.

The commission last month disqualified Ourway Realty LLC, the current owners of Plainridge, from bidding on a slots parlor after a background investigation revealed questionable business practices involving a former executive.

Penn National originally sought to develop a resort casino in Springfield, but city officials opted to throw their support behind a competing bid from MGM Resorts. Penn National then approached the town of Tewskbury about siting a slots parlor there, but residents voted down a zoning change that would have allowed the proposal to move forward.

“Our efforts to date in Massachusetts reflect our deep commitment from day one to invest in the Commonwealth,” Eric Schippers, vice president of public affairs for Penn National, said in a statement.

“Penn National began as a single racetrack operator in Pennsylvania and a major part of our growth story involves helping to revitalize racetracks very similar to Plainridge,” Schippers added.

The option to buy the track raises a number of procedural issues that the gambling commission is expected to consider at its next regularly scheduled meeting on Wednesday, according to a spokeswoman for the panel.

Before being disqualified by the panel, the track’s current owners had reached a host community agreement with Plainville, a town of about 8,200 residents approximately 40 miles south of Boston, and a referendum had been scheduled for Sept. 10. Penn National said Tuesday it would ask selectmen to honor the terms of the previous host agreement and go forward with next Tuesday’s vote, which had not been canceled.

“This agreement represents an opportunity for harness racing to survive in Massachusetts,” said Alfred Ross, a horse owner and current Plainridge shareholder. The 14-year-old track may well be forced to close if it fails to win a license to install slots machines.

Penn National is promising a major expansion and renovation of Plainridge if it gets the license. The company operates 28 gambling or racing facilities in 17 states and the province of Ontario, according to its website.

Massachusetts’ 2011 expanded gambling law allows for three regional resort casinos, but only one slots parlor. There are currently three other proposals for slots parlors: in Raynham, Millbury and Leominster.

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