November 10, 2010

Mahoning Township may hire lobbyist to secure track
Nancy Lowry New Castle
News The New Castle News Wed Nov 10, 2010, 09:46 AM EST

NEW CASTLE — The Mahoning Township supervisors are seeking a lobbyist to secure a racetrack/casino for Lawrence County.

Gary Pezzuolo and Mark Sackin last night agreed to “see what is available” to convince American Harness Tracks to locate on 250 acres of reclaimed strip-mine land off Route 422 in Mahoning Township.

Supervisor chairman Vito Yeropoli was absent.

The action came after the Pittsburgh-based firm was named Oct. 20 as the winning bidder for the assets of Valley View Downs at $5.6 million. Valley View’s parent company, Centaur Gaming of Indianapolis, declared bankruptcy a year ago and the sale of assets was conducted to help to satisfy creditors’ claims.

The bid has not been accepted by the bankruptcy judge.

Pezzuolo said that although the assets were sold “as is/where is” and the harness racing license issued to Centaur in 2007 is “site specific,” he believes there are plans to move the facility.

Pezzuolo said he believes American Harness Tracks partners are working with state Sen. John Wozniak to move the project to the Johnstown area and that Wozniak plans to introduce legislation to do so.

“We need to step up, to convince them to keep it here,” he said. “We need all the help we can get to do this.”

Pezzuolo said the supervisors plan to work with the Lawrence County commissioners and other elected officials and businesses and possibly officials and businesses from surrounding counties.

“We don’t know what this will cost,” he said after the meeting. “We are soliciting proposals to determine what we might have to spend. If the cost is going to be $100,000, we don’t have the money for that by ourselves.”

Pezzuolo said the township has invested too much money to not continue to actively pursue the track.

“We were told the track is coming, and that we had to get utilities out to them,” Pezzuolo said, noting the township invested in water lines and, over the summer, began its sewer project.

In 2002, the township was ordered by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to install sewer lines and a treatment plant. The project was approved in 2004, and plans were approved in 2008, to serve 600 households in Edinburg and Hillsville.

Initially, the plant was to handle 130,000 gallons of sewage daily.

“Then we were told the track would put out 350,000 gallons of sewage per day and to plan for that.”

To meet these requirements, Pezzuolo said, the township redesigned its plan, originally a $15 million project. It is now anticipated to cost $22 million.

“No one has any official notice that the license will be moved,” township solicitor Lou Perrotta said, “but we’re going to be pro-active. We want to keep (the project) in the best site available for the local community.”

The “as is/where is” bid, he said, “leaves a lot of room for interpretation.”

Former township supervisor Poncho Exposito said the bankruptcy court has until Dec. 20 to accept or reject American Harness Tracks’ bid.

“That is why they can’t say much” about their plans.

By order of the harness racing commission, American Harness Tracks has until Dec. 31 to put together its financial package, meet with the commission and apply for a racing license.

NEW CASTLE — So local officials think they need a lobbyist to push for a casino in Lawrence County.

Why? In addition to elected officials at the county and state level, this community has a chamber of commerce, a tourist promotion agency and an economic development corporation that routinely tout their marketing and communication skills.

All of these entities should be able to work together to explain why Lawrence County, rather than the Johnstown area, is the best location for a combined harness track and casino.

We bring this up because the Mahoning Township supervisors this week announced they are in the market for a lobbyist. Somehow, this lobbyist would schmooze American Harness Tracks into operating a casino at the Valley View Downs property in Mahoning Township.

American Harness Tracks is the company identified as the top bidder for Valley View Downs, the site that for years has been designated as the last one in Pennsylvania for a harness track and casino. The owner of the property, Centaur Gaming, is in bankruptcy and last month conducted an auction of its Valley View Downs holdings as part of the plan to emerge from Chapter 11 protection.

Originally, this auction was promoted as good news for Lawrence County and Mahoning Township. Centaur proved to be unable to raise the financing necessary to make the casino project a reality. A new owner — approved by the bankruptcy court — was supposed to resolve that problem.

But there have been indications that part of American Harness Tracks’ agenda is to move the track and casino facility to the Johnstown area. That’s not official, but this concern is what prompted Mahoning’s supervisors to decide to look for a lobbyist.

The way we see it, locating this facility close to the Ohio border is far superior to any site near Johnstown. It doesn’t take a lobbyist to point out the obvious — particularly for a business that’s presumably interested in making as much money as possible from its investment.

But if American Harness Tracks has determined, for whatever reason, to seek a facility near Johnstown, we doubt a lobbyist is going to make a difference. Something else is driving that move.

Instead, local emphasis ought to be on pressuring the Pennsylvania Harness Racing Commission to stick to its existing decision — that Lawrence County is the place to establish a track.

We would add that the commission contributed to the current mess by insisting that Centaur be part of the process. Local developer Carmen Shick was pushed out, while his concept was recognized as superior to the one Centaur originally pursued in Beaver County.

Had Shick’s proposal and participation been accepted, it’s likely this facility would have been up and running by now, generating revenue for the state, county and township.

Other sites could have pursued the track license years ago, yet they failed to do so. By every measure of fairness and practicality, the track and casino should be located in Lawrence County.

The county commissioners and other local officials plan to attend Wednesday’s meeting of the harness racing commission. Perhaps that panel should be reminded how much has been done locally in preparation for this facility, and selecting a different site this late in the game could conceivably prompt legal action that would delay the project even more.

Lawrence County doesn’t need a lobbyist or anyone else to cheerlead for Valley View Downs. It needs fighters to make it happen.

November 12, 2010
"Letter from the Editor" of the New Castle News in response to Mahoning Township seeking a lobbyist firm.
November 14, 2010
Letter from Mahoning Township in response to the "Letter from the Editor" of the New Castle News.
Dear Mr. Kolodziej, Editor, New Castle News,
In response to your "Track Tactics" article dated November 12th.

Thank you for your opinion, as you know, everyone has an opinion.  Mahoning Township has been fighting for this track since day one, it is not our fault that the powers that be could not make up their minds on a location.  Furthermore, it is not our fault that Centaur was not able to secure financing.   Our representation in Harrisburg is weak, it is obvious that license plate renewals, handicap placards, and pig roast photo opportunities, consumed the responsibilities of our representative in the ninth legislative district.  Mahoning Township will now take matters into it's own hands.  We will hire a lobbyist, and take legal action if necessary.  Let us get beyond the fact that Carmen Shick was not awarded the track and move forward with an aggressive campaign to keep the track here.  The New Castle News uses ink by the barrel, please use some of it to give us a hand...lets get back on track.

Vito Yeropoli. Chairman, Mahoning Township Supervisor
Gary Pezzuolo, Mahoning Township Supervisor
Mark Sackin, Mahoning Township Supervisor
Read Senator Vogel's releases here, posted 11/19/10 ©  copyright 2010.
All photos and wording are property of Mahoning township or used by permission
and may not be used in any form without written permission from Mahoning township

December 2, 2010

Shick among bidders for racetrack

Nancy Lowry
New Castle News The New Castle News Thu Dec 02, 2010, 09:08 AM EST

NEW CASTLE — Carmen Shick is still in the hunt for a harness track for Lawrence County.

And a casino to go with it.

But the local developer is up against interests who appear to be determined to move the track elsewhere.

At an Oct. 20 auction to sell the assets of Valley View Downs, the proposed harness track and casino in Mahoning Township, Shick and his company, Bedford Development Management, submitted the highest bid — $7 million.

Attending the auction via telephone, Shick offered a non-refundable bid of $1.3 million up front followed by $4.2 million at closing — expected to be Dec. 13 — plus an additional $1.5 million to be paid on the one-year anniversary of the grand opening of the racetrack/casino.

Pittsburgh-based American Harness Tracks, submitting a bid of $5.6 million, was deemed the successful bidder by attorney Gerald Uzzi who conducted the auction.

American Harness Tracks offered $1.3 million to be placed in escrow and $4.3 million at the closing for the “as is-where is” racetrack to be located in Mahoning Township. The newly-organized group includes attorney Charles Knoll, son of the late lieutenant governor, Catherine Baker Knoll.

However, comments made during the bidding process suggest part of American Harness Tracks’ goal is to transfer the license to another area, possibly near Johnstown.

The bid is pending approval of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

After conferring with Centaur and its financial adviser, Innovation Capital, Uzzi announced American Harness Tracks as the winning bidder, saying the creditors would not agree to “value deferred considerations” as part of the price. This placed Shick’s bid at $5.5 million.

Shick said yesterday he will continue to pursue the matter. He anticipates filing an objection to the auction results with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware.

The deadline for filing is tomorrow.


“I was shocked when the bidding ended,” he said. “I had expected it to continue. We believe that we offered the higher bid. I was shocked when it was awarded to American Harness Tracks.”

Shick said Uzzi had not announced that after-bid offerings would not be considered.

“I had expected (this bidding) would continue after the money available at the closing was exhausted. I had been prepared to continue the post-closing bidding.”

He noted that the $4.3 million bid due at closing is predicated on all hurdles being cleared. This includes approval by the Pennsylvania Harness Commission and lining up investors and financing.

“In this (economic market) nothing is a sure thing.”

He declined to share more of his plans, noting a confidentiality agreement with Centaur and the courts prevents it.

The position of Centaur and Innovative Capital Investment Bankers rejecting value deferred consideration is particularly surprising because the duo had accepted that condition earlier this year.

In July, Centaur sold its Fortune Valley Hotel and Casino in Central City, Colo., to Michigan-based Luna Gaming for $10 million — $7.5 million in cash and a $2.5 million promissory note to be paid over five years at 6.5 percent interest. That sale and those conditions were approved Aug. 25 by the bankruptcy court.


Four bidders participated in the Oct. 20 auction — American Harness Tracks, Bedford, Western P. Gaming Ventures and Merit Management Group who, according to a transcript of the proceedings, partnered with Bedford.

According to the transcript, all four initial bids were rejected by Centaur and bidders were asked to “improve their offers.”

American Harness Tracks was identified as the front-runner initially sweetening its bid to $3.5 million but proposing to eliminate language in the agreement requiring the track and casino to be located in Lawrence County.

After Bedford’s attorney pointed out the track license issued in 2007 by the state harness racing commission is “site specific,” the “as is-where is” language remained. However last summer, the corporation indicated it would prefer to build a track/casino near Johnstown. The two traded bids until the American Harness offer was accepted.

Shick said he maintains his initial goal. “We want to keep the track in Lawrence County.”

December 4, 2010

Valley View Downs: Developer Carmen Shick says he made best offer

Nancy Lowry
New Castle News The New Castle News Sat Dec 04, 2010, 07:05 AM EST

NEW CASTLE — Carmen Shick has not been sitting idle since 2007 when Centaur Inc. received Pennsylvania’s last available harness track license.

Expecting the racetrack/casino would one day be built in Mahoning Township, Shick and his organization, Bedford Management Development Co., planned for an indoor water park, commercial projects and a residential development on property neighboring Centaur’s Valley View Downs.

Shick is ready to move to center stage.

“I could be in a warmer climate, fishing off a boat,” Shick reflected. “But I’m here and looking at a poster we’d put up years ago — 2,000 local jobs would be created if the racetrack/casino opens. I’d still like to see that here.”

The local developer was one of four bidders in the Oct. 20 auction of Valley View Downs’ assets.

He believes his organization was the high bidder at $7 million— offering a $1.3 million deposit, $4.2 million at closing and $1.5 million on the one-year anniversary of the facility’s grand opening.

Pittsburgh-based American Harness Tracks, which bid $1.3 million up front and $4.3 million at closing for $5.6 million, received the unofficial nod.

Shick said he was shocked when he was told the bidding had ended and after-bid offerings would not be considered. This particularly bothered him since that scenario had been followed earlier this year in another bankruptcy auction involving Centaur holdings.

Yesterday, Bedford Developments filed objections to the auction results with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware. The bankruptcy court judge is expected to rule on the sale by Dec. 13.

After that, the successful bidder will have the opportunity to apply for a license through the harness racing commission, which in 2007 awarded a license that is “site specific.” This means the license is attached to the land on which the license was granted.

“I believe and hope the commission is committed to keeping the track here,” Shick said. He added that he does not know if anyone ever successfully moved a harness license after the initial license was issued.


The Shick family and Centaur had competed for several years to obtain the state’s last harness track license. A few months before it was awarded, Centaur agreed to a compromise that involved purchasing 250 acres of land from Shick. Centaur initially planned to locate in Beaver County.

Shick’s location, near the Ohio border, had been identified in a 2004 study prepared for the state Senate as having potential to be one of the most lucrative gaming sites statewide. The survey evaluated 16 potential gaming sites.

After Centaur received the license, “we did feasibility studies, marketing and studied economic impact,” he said. “But the track is the keystone. That is what will draw the people, create jobs and opportunity. That should have been up and running three years ago.”

It was not an option to consider that the track/casino would not be built.

“When it became clear that Centaur was in trouble, we threw our resources behind them,” Shick said.

As economic conditions worsened, he said he tried to find investors to keep Centaur’s project alive.

“But no one offered what Centaur wanted,” he said.


The Valley View project stalled when the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board failed to award a conditional license to Centaur by July 15, 2008. Without the license to operate a slots casino, Centaur defaulted on an almost $1 billion loan and lost its financing after the collapse of the credit market.

“I can’t believe the gaming board would not award a conditional license,” Shick said. “Centaur was told a background investigation (of its organization) would take a year. Maybe that was true if they were investigating 14 applicants, but if they were investigating only one?”

The Indianapolis-based Centaur Inc., which operates Hoosier Park in Anderson, Ind., and three off-track betting parlors in Indiana, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2009. Another holding, Fortune Valley Hotel and Casino in Central City, Colo., was sold at an auction in July.


Shick said he has been frustrated as time passed without action on the project.

“You see other facilities being built. Money is being made. Communities are prospering. But we’re stuck in time and it is not our own doing.”

According to figures released this week by the gaming board, the state’s 10 operating casinos collected $180 million in gross revenue last month. That generated more than $98 million in state taxes — estimated at an average of $3.3 million per day.

With the exception of The Meadows Racetrack and Casino and Harrah’s Chester Casino and Racetrack, the casinos’ earnings reflected an increase.

Race track principals begin talks
  By: Eric PooleCalkins Media
Wednesday December 15, 2010 07:51 PM

The two parties cooperating on the construction of a harness-racing track and casino in Lawrence County aren’t wasting any time.

On Tuesday — one day after officially winning the rights to Pennsylvania’s last harness-racing license — representatives of American Harness Tracks LLC met in Pittsburgh with Joe Canfora, chief financial officer of Merit Management to begin negotiations.

Under a ruling Monday by a federal bankruptcy court in Delaware, American Harness Tracks and Merit will negotiate an agreement to develop and build the gambling complex in Mahoning Township.

“It was a good initial meeting,” Canfora said. “We’re getting to know each other.”

Merit and Mahoning Township businessman Carmen Shick were among the unsuccessful bidders in October for the rights to the harness-racing license. Merit and Shick filed motions against American Harness Tracks, which won the bidding.

Canfora said Merit and Shick dropped those objections Monday after American Harness Tracks made a commitment to build in Lawrence County. Last summer, an executive for American Harness Tracks had expressed an interest in building a gambling facility in the Johnstown area.

That possibility is off the table if Merit has anything to do with the process. And Canfora said it probably will. Merit, based in Chicago, is successfully operating a casino in Bellingham, Wash., and Canfora previously ran the Empress casinos in the Chicago region.

“I left home at age 19, and I’ve been in this business ever since,” Canfora said.

Advertisement  “Home,” to Canfora was New Castle. While growing up during the 1970s, he saw the tail end of the city’s industrial boom — his grandfather worked at Shenango China — and said he hopes a racetrack and casino complex will turn around Lawrence County’s fortunes.

The two companies will continue negotiations as American Harness Tracks attempts to win the state’s last remaining harness-racing license, still held by Centaur Gaming.

Centaur Gaming had to put the license up for auction as part of a bankruptcy action because it was unable to obtain financing to build the track, which was to have been called Valley View Downs.

With the final sale of license rights, Centaur will no longer be involved with the process.

Canfora said financing won’t be a problem with any proposal involving his company. He said Tuesday’s discussions also included representatives of the Och-Ziff Capital Management Group.

Och-Ziff — an investment firm that has offices in New York, London, Hong Kong, Mumbai and Beijing — controls more than $27 billion in assets, according to information on its website.

While Canfora admitted having a personal stake in bringing 2,000 construction jobs and 1,000 permanent jobs to his hometown, he said it would be impossible to bring financiers on board if the track and casino weren’t a good investment.

“Obviously, the economics have to work,” he said. “In today’s economy, money is kind of scarce.”

Centaur’s former site approved
Tuesday, December 14, 2010 - from Harness Tracks of America

Tucson, AZ --- It now appears that a harness track and racino that Indiana’s Centaur had hoped to build in western Pennsylvania may be built after all, but not by Centaur.

The company had objected to the results of an Oct. 20 auction of its harness racing license -- the last available in Pennsylvania -- and so had Carmen Shick’s Bedford Development Management, an unsuccessful bidder.

It now appears both have withdrawn their objections with the successful bidder, American Harness Tracks, coming up with a new partner-backer in Merit Gaming of Chicago. American Harness had originally announced it would move the proposed track and racino to Johnstown in central Pennsylvania, but legal obstacles seemingly appeared that could have nullified such a move because of an as-is, where-is provision in the auction sale. Centaur and Bedford’s withdrawal of their objections indicates the project is on course for Lawrence County near the Pennsylvania-Ohio state line.

Still unresolved, and needing approval, is the racino license which remains subject to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, which had refused to grant further extensions to Centaur because of its inability to obtain financing. If American Harness Tracks can satisfy the control board that it can get the financing from Merit Gaming, the five-year delay could be over, and construction of the track and casino could finally get underway.