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Harness track license OK’d

Apr 8, 2003 7:22 AM

When Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell announced his plan to place slot machines at the state’s racetracks, he envisioned a new thoroughbred track to be built in the town of Chester.

Indications were that Greenwood Racing Inc., the English-based owner of Philadelphia Park, was prepared to seek a license to build a new racetrack in that community. But, that plan was basically squashed last week when a license was granted for a harness track in Chester.

One of the problems that Rendell failed to foresee was that Pennsylvania has two separate commissions to oversee racing in that state. The Thoroughbred Racing Commission would have jurisdiction over the application from Greenwood Racing while the Harness Racing Commission would pass on any application for the Standardbred sport.

At its meeting last week, despite the governor’s announced preference, the Harness Racing Commission voted 2-1 to award a license to Chester Downs & Marina, whose president, Joe Lashinger, said he planned to build a $20 million trotting track, whether slot machine legislation were passed or not. Of course, he said, if he were granted slots approval, the track probably would become a $100 million project that would create 1,800 jobs.

Upon hearing about the harness racing regulators vote, Gov. Rendell expressed his disappointment, saying the vote "effectively spiked" plans for a thoroughbred track. "Obviously," he said, "Chester isn’t going to get two tracks."