Updated on 09/17/2011 9:43AM

Playfair gets green light

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SEATTLE, Wash. - Spokane's Playfair Race Course, which has not operated since 2000, was granted a 40-day 2003 season, from Sept. 26 through Dec. 21, at a meeting of the Washington Horse Racing Commission here on Thursday.

With racing dates in hand, Playfair can begin offering simulcast wagering as soon as the facility is ready and tote machines have been installed. Eric Nelson, the Las Vegas-based businessman who was licensed to operate Playfair on Oct. 31 of last year, said he hopes to begin conducting simulcasting early in February.

Playfair closed its doors twice in the last decade under two different operators, neither of whom could make the track profitable. Nelson, who operates Wyoming Downs and four card rooms in Washington, is confident that he can succeed with the historic track.

"I think one thing that is different now is that a new simulcasting law is in effect, and expanded full card simulcasting will be crucial for Playfair," he said. "We will also work very hard in the area of special events, because we want to promote the facility as well as the racing. And as time goes along, probably over the next 90 days, we will look into other sources of possible income for the track."

One other source of possible income that Nelson will certainly consider is machine gaming. In that regard, he introduced Lincoln Ferris, co-chair of the Entertainment Industry Coalition, who told the commission about a bill that will be introduced in Washington's upcoming legislative session.

The bill will authorize 18,900 slot-like machines, the number now operating in Washington's Indian casinos, for use in non-tribal taverns, mini-casinos and class A racetracks. Ferris said the bill, as currently written, allocates 125 of the machines to each class A racetrack. He said the average daily net for each machine is estimated at slightly over $200.

Nelson said he is not necessarily advocating passage of the bill, but he said it is important for tracks to be included if the bill becomes law.

Playfair became eligible to receive racing dates when it fulfilled the final condition of its license, the signing of a purse agreement with horsemen. After months of sometimes acrimonious negotiations, Nelson signed a purse contract with Organization for the Preservation of Horse Racing in the Northwest, the bargaining agent for eastern Washington horsemen, on Jan. 2. The contract stipulates that the minimum purse level, which both sides hope will be $2,500, will be set 60 days prior to the opening of the meet.