05/26/2003 11:00PM

No deal reached at Playfair

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SEATTLE, Wash. - Spokane's Playfair Race Course will not open for live racing as planned in 2003 and the track's simulcast operations, which were suspended pending negotiations with horsemen and the owner of the property, will remain closed.

Eric Nelson, Playfair's would-be operator, informed the Washington Horse Racing Commission of his decisions regarding the track on Tuesday. According to Robert Leichner, the commission's executive secretary, Nelson promised to tell the commission whether he will voluntarily surrender his license to operate Playfair by close of the business day on Friday.

Reached by telephone in his Las Vegas office, Nelson said he could not arrive at a long-term contract agreement with Organization for the Preservation of Horse Racing in the Northwest, which represents eastern Washington horsemen.

"That was the main sticking point," he said. "I felt we had overwhelming support among the rank-and-file horsemen for what we wanted to do, but the OPHRN board wouldn't bend."

Nelson signed a 10-year lease/ option-to-buy deal on Playfair, which has not staged a live meeting since 2000, a year ago. He was licensed to operate a 40-day September-to-December 2003 meeting in January and began offering simulcast wagering at the track in February. The simulcast operation was suspended two weeks ago for what Nelson called "a 14-day cooling-off period" in his unsuccessful negotiations with horsemen.

"We just couldn't get it done," said Nelson, who said he spent more than $500,000 in his attempt to resurrect Playfair. "The frustrating thing is that I believe Playfair could have been successful."