11/26/2002 1:00AM

Emerald land sold to tribe

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AUBURN, Wash. - The Muckleshoot American Indian tribe has purchased the land upon which Emerald Downs sits. The tribe operates Washington's largest casino, just a few miles from Emerald Downs in Auburn.

The tribe announced Tuesday that it had purchased the 157-acre site from LaTerra Limited Partnership, which is headed by Mario Segale, an investor in Emerald, for an undisclosed sum. Emerald Downs holds a 60-year lease on the property, so the sale is not expected to affect horse racing, at least in the short term.

"Everything is status quo as far as we're concerned," said Ron Crockett, the track's president.

Crockett said the track's relations with the tribe are good. But that has not always been the case.

The tribe opposed Emerald's attempts to fill wetlands before the track was completed in 1996, and Emerald later blocked the tribe's attempts to offer wagering on out-of-state simulcasts at its casino.

Emerald also opposed the tribe's attempts to obtain a license to conduct racing at Playfair in Spokane in 1997 and 1998, and the Washington Horse Racing Commission denied that application.

The tribe's attorney, Rob Otsea, said it is "way too speculative" to suppose the tribe will attempt to buy Emerald, but racing industry members suspect such an attempt is likely. "They are in the gaming business," noted Pat LePley, commission chairman. "It's a logical jump."