Lawrence Downs

Lawrence Downs Racino Proposal Shot Down By PA Gaming Control Board

It’s almost as if the word “saga” was created specifically for the proposed Lawrence Downs racino.

Earlier this month, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board voted to nix the Lawrence County harness-racing/casino project proposed by Endeka Entertainment.

According to the Ellwood City Ledgerthe highlight of the hearing was the Office of Enforcement Counsel’s attorney Cyrus Pitre, who likened the board’s collaboration with Endeka to an ancient Greek myth.

“Like Sisyphus, we’ve been ceaselessly rolling the boulder uphill only to see it roll back down under its own weight,” Pitre said.

Meanwhile, the lawyer of Endeka oajority owner John Procacci released a statement saying Endeka was thankful for the support it received from Lawrence County’s citizens and Commissioner Dan Vogler.

While the Lawrence Downs racino appears to be dead, the possible addition of online gambling (including PA online poker) in 2017 might be the equivalent of adding a new casino in the state.

Racino’s latest failure part of a 13-year history

The history of Lawrence Downs reaches back to the days when Pennsylvania first legalized slot machine gambling in 2004.

Mob ties, traffic concerns end first proposals

At the time, a Lawrence County businessman named Carmen Shick was stirring up support for a racetrack-casino he called “Bedford Downs,” which would be built on a piece of property he owned in Mahoning Township.

Over the course of the next year, applications for harness-racing licenses trickled into the PGCB. All but two of those applications — Shick’s and one from Centaur Gaming — were rejected.

In November 2005, both applications were rejected. Centaur’s proposal for “Valley View Downs” didn’t provide adequate traffic measures, while, according to one source, Shick’s application was nixed because of his alleged mob ties.

Centaur acquires Mahoning property

Though the application’s were dead, Shick still held out hope his Mahoning Township property would be home to a new casino. Two years later, Shick sold the land to Centaur, who then proposed in February 2008 a $428 million facility with 3,000 slots and a 1-mile harness racing track.

However, the proposal was on a short leash. Credit Suisse, the project’s financier, approved a $1 billion line-of-credit if Centaur could acquire its racing license by July 15, 2008.

Centaur received its license, but only after the July 15 deadline passed. The group filed for bankruptcy in October 2009.

Seven years of proposals, plans and border rivalries

Centaur’s gaming license rights were up for grabs when it filed for Chapter 11. A group named American Harness Tracks bought the rights for $5.6 million and, in November 2011, gained a harness racing license from the PGCB.

A group of investors bought controlling interest in American Harness Tracks, and would eventually become Endeka Entertainment. At this point in Lawrence Downs long history, it was known as Valley View Downs.

Meanwhile, across the border in Austintown, Ohio, construction began on a new racino in September 2012.

Penn National Gaming, the company who broke ground on the Ohio facility, was also the company Endeka chose to run the casino side of its proposed operation when it applied for a casino license in 2013.

Meetings in Lawrence County took place over the next couple of years, with residents of the area voicing their support for the casino, and they were no doubt proud of the project’s new name, Lawrence Downs.

Proposal degenerates into lawsuits, last-ditch extension request

Endeka never could pull together the right mix of licenses, operators and funding. Penn National backed out of its agreement in 2015, leaving Endeka without a casino operator, and, consequently, no casino license.

The group was able to pull together funding for the project, but, according to the City Ledger, the financier for the project, NewCastle Funding, was “suspect.”

Endeka made a Hail Mary attempt just days before its hearing with the PGCB. The company filed a lawsuit against NewCastle and also asked the PGCB for a 60-day extension to secure funding.

Pitre was not a fan of the extension request, saying “the time has come to end this recurring loop.”