Updated on 11/16/2014 12:25AM

Emerald Downs sold to Muckleshoot Tribe

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AUBURN, Wash. – Emerald Downs has been sold to the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, Emerald and tribal officials announced Thursday. While no terms were revealed, the Muckleshoots will assume full control from Northwest Racing Associates, which has operated the suburban Seattle track since its opening in 1996.

Acquiring Emerald Downs has long been rumored as a possible next step for the Muckleshoot Tribe. The tribe has been Emerald Downs’s landlord since 2002, when it acquired the 157-acre property, and has contributed more than $11 million in Emerald Downs purse enhancements since 2004.

The pending sale fuels speculation that the Muckleshoot Tribe will seek permission to install casino-style gambling at Emerald Downs. The tribe already operates the bustling Muckleshoot Casino, the state’s largest tribal casino, about five miles southeast of Emerald.

Muckleshoot spokesman Rollin Fatland declined to comment on the tribe’s long-range plans for Emerald Downs. Under current state law, the Emerald site would have to be converted to trust land before the tribe could open a casino there – a potentially lengthy process that requires federal approval.

Virginia Cross, the Muckleshoot tribal council chair, said Emerald Downs can be “an important part of our economic development program.”

“The tribe’s longstanding support of the state’s Thoroughbred racing industry continues with this transaction,” Cross said in a statement. “It is the tribe’s goal to keep the … industry as a viable part of our state’s economy. Emerald Downs sits in the center of the tribe’s historical homeland, and this transaction makes it an important part of our economic development program.”

Doug Moore, executive secretary of the Washington Horse Racing Commission, said rumors of a sale had been percolating since late summer.

“I’m surprised, but not shocked,” Moore said of Thursday’s announcement. “I’ve been aware for a couple of months that this has been in the works. There have been rumors like this floating around for years. The Muckleshoots have been partners in racing for several years, and by all indications, they are willing to invest in horse racing’s future. I think it’s nothing but a positive for the industry.”

The transaction is expected to be complete in 60 to 90 days. Emerald Downs has already announced plans for a 70-day meeting in 2015. The barn area is scheduled to open in February.

“As far as the state is concerned, it’s business as usual,” Moore said. “They will have to go through the licensing process just as any other group would. We’ll start that process as soon as we can schedule a meeting with the Muckleshoot Tribe.”

Track employees were told their jobs are secure.

“We’ve been told it will be business as usual, and to prepare for the 2015 season,” said Vince Bruun, Emerald Downs’s director of media relations. “Management will be the same.”

Ron Crockett, the driving force behind the building of Emerald Downs, will serve as a consultant to the new owners during the transition before stepping aside as track president after 19 years.

“My goal has always been to preserve this important industry,” Crockett said in a statement. “I have accomplished that goal and this is a now good time for the Tribe to step in and bring Emerald Downs to the next level.”