01/10/2003 1:00AM

Playfair gets green light for 2003


SEATTLE - Playfair Race Course in Spokane, which has not operated since 2000, was granted a 40-day season in 2003, from Sept. 26 through Dec. 21, at a meeting here of the Washington Horse Racing Commission 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 last October was licensed to operate Playfair, said he hopes to begin conducting simulcasting in early 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.

"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. "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 income that Nelson will certainly consider is machine gambling. Lincoln Ferris, co-chair of a lobbying group called the Entertainment Industry Coalition, spoke to the commission about a bill that will be introduced in Washington's upcoming legislative session.

The bill would authorize 18,900 slot-like machines, the number now operating in Washington's Native American 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 more than $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 the Organization for the Preservation of Horse Racing in the Northwest, the bargaining agent for eastern Washington horsemen, on Jan. 2.