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Phila. Park casino plan given full approval

A $250 million facility, to be open in '09, will help Pa. horse racing.

The plan by the owner of Philadelphia Park Casino & Racetrack in Bensalem to build a $250 million casino was unanimously approved yesterday by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

The vote by the seven-member board came on the day the owner's conditional license expired. The company, Greenwood Gaming & Entertainment Inc., starts operating under a permanent license today.

For months, Greenwood and the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association were at odds over the company's commitment to build a new facility. The horsemen's group contended that the owner was trying to convert its conditional license and turn the existing Bensalem facility into a permanent one.

Greenwood's master plan met the horsemen's approval when it was unveiled early last month.

"Philadelphia Park stepped up to the plate over the last month and worked with the board, local government and horsemen's groups to finalize a master plan that demonstrates their commitment to building a world-class facility," board chairwoman Mary DiGiacomo Colins said. "The plans also show that Philadelphia Park will use numerous cross-promotion initiatives to assure that the slots and horse-racing facilities operate in the type of integrated manner envisioned under the Gaming Act."

The casino will include a 250,000-square-foot complex with 4,000 slot machines, a multipurpose entertainment center, bars and cocktail lounges, and restaurants.

The Phase I plan also enables Philadelphia Park to explore options for additional construction between the grandstand and new casino, including retail facilities or a hotel.

"We're pleased with the positive reaction we have received from today's meeting with the Gaming Control Board," Bob Greenwood, chairman and chief executive officer of Greenwood Gaming, said yesterday.

A goal of the Pennsylvania gambling law signed by Gov. Rendell in July 2004 is to help the state's fledgling horse-racing industry. Seven of the 14 slots licenses were designated for racetracks.

Under the casino plan, the horse-racing tier of the existing grandstand at Philly Park will be renovated, and sections of the grandstand that are being used for gambling will be rededicated to racing activities.

Philadelphia Park also committed $25 million toward the renovation of 36 barns and 12 dormitory facilities at the track.

"We're very pleased with the end product," said Pete Peterson, spokesman for the horsemen's association, which represents 4,000 owners and trainers at Philadelphia Park. "We believe that they are doing right by the horsemen and their patrons."

Philadelphia Park has targeted groundbreaking for March, with completion of the casino expected in November 2009.