- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 24, 2006

HARRISBURG, Pa. — State gambling regulators are expected this week to give Pennsylvania’s horse-racing tracks the go-ahead to plug in thousands of slot machines, the biggest step in two years toward making Pennsylvania one of the nation’s busiest gambling markets.

On Wednesday, the seven-member Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board is scheduled to vote whether to grant conditional slots licenses to the state’s six racetrack owners, including the nation’s largest casino operator, Harrah’s Entertainment Inc.

With most, if not all, of the racetracks expected to get the nod, Pennsylvanians for the first time will soon be able to play slot machines in their home state instead of driving to Atlantic City in New Jersey or to Delaware, New York or West Virginia.

Racetrack owners are spending more than $1 billion to tear down old grandstands and rebuild them with steakhouses, spas and sports bars to wrap around the gambling floors.

The Mohegan Indians, who operate a huge casino in Connecticut, are shooting to open the first slots parlor in Pennsylvania. Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs could open its doors as early as November.

“We’re going about 100 mph right now,” racetrack spokesman Jim Wise said.

A temporary slots parlor in the renovated grandstand will house the machines until a more elaborate gambling hall can be built over the next two years. The rest of the racetrack owners expect to introduce slots casinos over the next year.

In December, the gaming board plans to decide whether to issue permanent slots licenses to the racetracks, as well as to pick from among 15 casino developers and established resorts that are competing with each other for seven additional slots licenses.

A 14th slots license is set aside for whoever wins the state’s final harness-racing license.

Ultimately, Gov. Edward G. Rendell expects Pennsylvania’s slots parlors to pull in $3 billion a year, with most of the state’s share to be used to help cut local taxes and boost the state’s share of spending on public schools.

If the Democratic governor’s projection proves accurate, Pennsylvania would become the third-biggest commercial gambling state in the nation, behind Nevada and New Jersey and ahead of Mississippi and Indiana, based on 2005 statistics compiled by the American Gaming Association.

Pennsylvania’s July 2004 law that legalized slot machines allows up to 61,000 total, a number that would make Pennsylvania the second-biggest slots state behind Nevada, not counting Indian casinos.

Pennsylvania’s horse breeders and racetrack owners are heralding the arrival of slots as the savior of the state’s declining equine industry.

“It will be the first time in a long period that people will be able to make money in this business in Pennsylvania,” said Joe Thomson, a Pennsylvania-based breeder who has farms in Delaware, Maryland, New York and Canada — but not Pennsylvania.

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