05/22/2002 12:00AM

Track sold; may reopen in 2003


AUBURN, Wash. - Live racing could return to Spokane's Playfair Race Course in 2003 as a result of the sale of the track to Eric Nelson, a Las Vegas real estate broker.

Nelson, who told the Washington Horse Racing Commission of his interest in Playfair at a meeting in April, owns and operates Wyoming Downs and four card rooms in Washington, including two in Kennewick. He purchased the historic track from Jack Pring, whose Appleway Leasing Corp. has owned Playfair since 1981.

Pring, who announced the sale Tuesday but did not disclose the price, said he bought out an option on the 66-acre property in order to make his deal with Nelson possible. The option had been granted to a would-be buyer who wanted the land for non-racing purposes.

Nelson said he is enthusiastic about the prospects of Thoroughbred racing and simulcasting at Playfair and is in the process of preparing an application for a license to operate the track. He said he hopes to hire key officials by midsummer and to stage a race meeting in 2003.

Pat LePley, chairman of the racing commission, said he saw no impediment to Nelson's time line.

"Mr. Nelson will have to file an application like anybody else, and we'll have to conduct all the required investigations, but the fact that he has already been licensed to operate card rooms by the Washington Gambling Commission will definitely expedite the process," he said.

LePley added that he thinks Playfair has a much greater chance to succeed since the passage last year of legislation greatly expanding simulcasting in the state.

LePley said Nelson's organization, which will be called Cleopatra Horse Racing and Casino Inc., will be allowed to begin simulcasting as soon as it is licensed, since that precedent was set by Playfair's last operator, Lilac City Racing Association, which ceased operation in 2000.

Playfair was built to serve as the centerpiece of the Spokane Interstate Fair in 1901. The track began offering parimutuel wagering in 1935 and, after a break during World War II, operated continuously through 1995.

Jack Pring operated the track himself through its most prosperous years, from 1981 through 1989, then leased it to a series of operators who experienced increasing financial difficulties.

Lilac City Racing Association, a group formed by horsemen, operated the track in 2000, but had its license revoked last summer when it could not gain sufficient financing to continue racing.