Horsemen Win Victories in Battle with Philadelphia Park
Gaming Board shortens timeline for Philly Park to develop new master plan; Racing Commission tables request to add slots due to questions about conditions at the track
BENSALEM, Pa., June 21 /PRNewswire/ -- The Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association won two victories today in its ongoing efforts to require Greenwood Gaming, the owner of Philadelphia Park, to fulfill its legal obligation to invest $300 million in a new facility and address poor conditions at the race track. The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board granted the Horsemen's request for an expedited schedule, giving Greenwood Gaming only until August 10th to complete a proposed new master plan. In a separate action, the Pennsylvania State Horse Racing Commission tabled Greenwood's request to add 300 slot machines until the track owner better answers a number of questions raised about conditions at the racetrack that arose following a tour of the facility earlier this week
"These are two important victories in our effort to force Philadelphia Park to live up to its promise to construct a new facility and improve conditions at the racetrack," said Michael P. Ballezzi, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. "It is good to see that the Gaming Board and Racing Commission are taking these issues seriously."
Ballezzi was pleased with the Gaming Board's decision to provide Greenwood Gaming only until August 10th to complete and submit its proposed new master plan. "One of our concerns has been that Greenwood Gaming is purposely creating a situation whereby they will be unable to meet the statutory deadline for construction of a permanent facility, which is why we felt a date certain was so important," said Ballezzi. "At the same time, we consented to some of the current conditions with the understanding that they would be transitory, and that a new facility would be completed shortly. Every day that we operate under these conditions we are driving more and more racing fans away."
The Pennsylvania State Horse Racing Commission's decision to table Greenwood Gaming's request to add 300 additional slots was also welcomed by the Horsemen, although they urged the Commission to play a more active role in the future. "The only thing Philadelphia Park understands is dollar signs," said Ballezzi. "Greenwood is simply not going to address the backside conditions or the declining attendance at the racetrack until they are forced to do so. We need full hearings by the Racing Commission on these two issues because live racing at Philadelphia Park is quickly dying."
Salvatore M. DeBunda, Vice President of the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association attended today's Racing Commission meeting and called on it to hold hearings to determine what, if anything, Philadelphia Park's ownership is doing to reverse the downward trend in live racing attendance and the handle at the racetrack. In the short term, the Horsemen called for increased access to betting facilities, allowing patrons better use of the picnic areas, improved access to restrooms and the horses, and restoring the owners' boxes to usable condition. The Horsemen also suggested the decline in live racing attendance could be addressed through an advertising campaign, concerts, incentives, and other marketing strategies.
But the backside conditions also remain an issue, said DeBunda. "Improvements to the backside were supposed to have begun last September, and Greenwood Gaming has dragged its feet every step of the way. If we want to improve the quality of the horses racing at Philadelphia Park, you have to provide better conditions for the owners and trainers on the backside and in the grandstand. The conditions right now are terrible."
The Horsemen operate under a contract with Greenwood Gaming to race at Philadelphia Park. As part of those contract negotiations, Philadelphia Park agreed to invest $12 million in improvements on the backside, including rehabilitating each of the 36 barns, which are more than 35 years old, rotting out, and in an extreme state of disrepair. Greenwood is now saying that it will not rehabilitate 12 of those barns because of higher than expected construction estimates.
"The Racing Commission really needs to take a closer look at this proposal," said DeBunda, who noted that Greenwood failed to consult the Horsemen when developing the recent plan as is required by state law. "There are serious health and safety issues - both for the horses and those who care for them -- with not repairing a dozen barns for another eight to ten years. They are in a terrible state of disrepair due to years of neglect by Greenwood Gaming. The Commission needs to take its role as a mediator seriously."
The Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association is a statewide organization representing owners and trainers at Philadelphia Park Racetrack.
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