08/29/2002 11:00PM

Slots to impact Detroit track


Officials for Magna Entertainment said on Friday that details about the company's plans for a racetrack in the Detroit area will not be finalized until Michigan has decided whether to allow slot machines at racetracks.

Magna, the largest racetrack operator in the United States, submitted a license application for a new dual-breed track 25 miles from downtown Detroit to the state racing commission on Thursday. The application calls for live racing as early as 2004, according to Annette Bacola, the chairman of the Michigan Office of Racing Commissioner.

The Michigan legislature is expected to address a number of bills late this year that would legalize slot machines or other forms of gambling at racetracks, which currently compete with 22 casinos in the state, including three in downtown Detroit. The bills are expected to be voted on in November, before this year's gubernatorial elections.

Magna chief operating officer Graham Orr said on Friday that the company would not provide details about racing dates, costs, or other details until the legislature had addressed the slots issue.

"We're not disclosing those numbers," Orr said. "We do have a business plan internally, obviously. Part of it is contingent upon what the future might bring."

The Detroit News reported in its Friday edition that Magna's plans were for a $200 million track. Sue Lloyd, Magna's manager of corporate communications, said she could not comment on the paper's figure.

Michael Tew, an analyst with Bear Stearns Equity Research who follows Magna, was surprised by the $200 million price tag. "That sounds like an awful lot," Tew said. But Tew also said that Magna could benefit significantly from slot machine gambling in Michigan, despite the existing competition from casinos. Racing officials blamed the new casinos for the closing of Detroit Race Course in 1998.

"In any market, slot machines at a facility are a huge contributor to earnings," Tew said.

Orr said that Magna has not yet purchased the land on which the track would be built, although Magna has purchased an option to buy the 212-acre site. He said that Magna's plans for horse racing of some type in Detroit "were set in stone" no matter how the legislature voted on slot machines.

Lloyd said Magna planned to have three racing surfaces at the track: a 1 1/8-mile outer dirt track, a one-mile inner turf course, and a seven-eighths-mile dirt track for Standardbreds.

Gary Twinkle, the executive director of the Michigan Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said that a Detroit track would be welcomed by horsemen, who have raced exclusively at Great Lakes Downs, a small track in rural Michigan also owned by Magna, since Detroit Race Course closed.

"[Magna chairman] Frank Stronach has always told us he wanted to get back to the city area, and we've always supported that," Twinkle. "We're excited, but as far as the details, I don't think anyone is ready to say much."