The hastily arranged corporate alliance between the Plainridge Racecourse and Penn National Gaming Inc. today cleared a key regulatory hurdle when the Massachusetts Gaming Commission concluded that Penn National is suitable to operate a slots parlor in the state.
The unanimous “positive” suitability determination was issued by the five-member commission this morning.
“The Applicant has met the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that it meets the standards for suitability,’’ the commission concluded in its seven-page written ruling.
The commission decision clears the way for Penn National and Plainridge – and its host community, Plainville – to compete for the sole slots parlor license to be issued in Massachusetts.
Also in the running is a development plan at Raynham Park, the simulcast betting facility and former dog track in Raynham, and a gambling, dining, and entertainment hall proposed by Cordish Cos. for Leominster.
Plainridge and Raynham Park have won the backing of their host communities, and Leominster voters backed the Cordish plan Sept. 23.
Plainridge and Penn National both appeared to have lost the race for the slots parlor in unrelated events this August.
First, the commission ruled that Plainridge owners were not suitable largely because former track president Gary Piontkowski had taken more than $1 million from the struggling track’s money room over several years. And then, Tewksbury residents voted against a Penn National slots parlor plan in their town.
But Penn National and Plainridge owners quickly reached an agreement under which Penn National will buy the track if it wins the slot license, a change in ownership approved by a majority of Plainville residents and the gaming commission.
Today’s ruling by the commission keeps the resurrected hopes of Plainridge and Penn National alive into the next round of competition.
The commission hopes to award the slot license by the end of the year. It will be the first license issued under the 2011 Massachusetts casino law, which authorized three resort casinos, no more than one in each of three regions of the state, and one slot parlor, which can be built in any region.
The slot parlor is limited to 1,250 machines and will have no live table games. It will pay 49 percent of its gambling revenue in state taxes, and requires a minimum investment of $125 million.