02/27/2014 4:09PM

Penn National Gaming awarded Massachusetts slots license

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The Massachusetts Gaming Commission awarded the license for construction of the state’s single slots parlor to Penn National Gaming Inc. on Feb. 27, breathing new life into the ailing Standardbred racing and breeding industries in New England.

By a vote of 3-2, the commissioners selected Penn National Gaming’s proposal to construct the facility on the grounds of Plainridge Race Course, the state’s only harness track, over competing applications from the Cordish Companies and the partnership of Greenwood Racing and Raynham Park, a former greyhound racing track and a current horse and dog racing simulcasting facility.

The application of the Cordish Cos. to put a slots parlor in Leominster, Mass., received two votes, while the proposal from the partnership of Raynham Park and Greenwood, owner of Parx Racing and Casino, got none.

The slots license will cost $25 million and a minimum of $125 million must be invested in the facility. The slots parlor will pay a 49 percent state tax on gambling revenue. Nine percent of the revenue from the slots parlor is earmarked to be divided between the state’s Standardbred and Thoroughbred horsemen through the gaming commission’s Race Horse Development Fund.

Penn National Gaming officials have until 9:30 a.m. Feb. 28 to inform the commission that they intend to comply with the conditions set forth in the license and accept it. Their next step will be to exercise an option to purchase Plainridge Race Course from the current ownership group, which was deemed unsuitable to hold a gaming license by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission last August after investigators discovered about $1.4 million in cash had been taken from the money room by a senior executive of the track over time.

Last fall, Plainridge teamed with Penn National Gaming, which had been rebuffed in separate efforts to move forward with plans for an $800 million casino in the state’s western region and a slots parlor in Tewksbury, Mass.

“We are thrilled by the decision today and are very grateful for all of the hard work that the commission put in to the deliberations,” said Eric Shippers, Penn National Gaming’s senior vice president for governmental relations. “We are reviewing the final conditions but didn’t see any major points of concern. The plan is to come back in the morning for the final awarding of the license.

“The option agreement we had was conditioned upon the awarding of the license, and we will be purchasing the racetrack.”

Plainridge is scheduled to open its 2014 live meet of 100 days on April 15. Officials were on record that without the slots license, the track would be shut down.

“There was a collective sigh of relief in all areas of the commonwealth that are affected by racing when this decision was rendered today,” Schippers said.

Massachusetts’s expanded gambling bill, which was passed in 2011, authorized three destination resort casinos to be located in three separate geographical regions and one slot parlor to be built anywhere in the state.

The slots parlor is allowed to have 1,250 slot machines and offer entertainment, restaurants, and other amenities.

By the end of June, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission will award the first two casino licenses. Suffolk Downs and gaming partner Mohegan Sun are competing with Wynn Resorts for the sole license designated for the Greater Boston area. A portion of the gaming revenue from the three casinos also will go to the commission’s Race Horse Development Fund.