Plainville officials say local planning for a slots parlor at Plainridge Racecourse will go forward, despite revelations over cash withdrawals by the struggling track’s former president.
“We’ve come too far to alter course,” Town Administrator Joseph Fernandes said Thursday in an interview.
State investigators vetting the track for Massachusetts’ sole slot parlor license discovered that Gary T. Piontkowski made personal cash withdrawals from the track’s money room for years, and that apparently led to Piontkowski’s resignation in April. At the time, Plainridge officials cited health reasons for the resignation.
Details of Plainridge’s finances were the subject of a daylong hearing conducted Thursday by the state gambling commission, less than three weeks after Plainville selectmen signed a host community agreement with the track.
Fernandes said in an interview that negotiations were held chiefly with Plainridge managers such as John Grogan, Piontkowski’s replacement. The real victims, Fernandes said, are the track’s principal investors.
“What’s important is the remaining players have been found by the investigative board to be suitable,” Fernandes said.
The cash withdrawals, while a problem for Plainridge, won’t stop the town’s planning or approval process for the racino, Fernandes said.
Chris Yarworth, Plainville’s planning and permitting coordinator, said he expects the Planning Board to approve the slot parlor when it meets Aug. 5, regardless of the allegations surrounding Piontkowski.
“That shouldn’t impact neighbors, or the site,” Yarworth said. “We are looking at it from a land-planning point of view.”
As part of the state’s application process, Plainridge must gain the Planning Board’s approval for its change-of-use request before the harness racetrack operator can be considered for the slots-only license to be awarded by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.
This week, the gambling commission is expected to privately debate Plainridge’s suitability to run a slot parlor before issuing a written decision on whether the track will be deemed qualified to compete for the license.
Michael Perpall, president of the Harness Horseman’s Association of New England, attended the commission’s hearing Thursday and said he would be alerting the 200-plus trainers, owners, and drivers in the organization of recent developments.
“Unlike thoroughbred racing, we are not centrally located at a track. Our membership is spread out across 72 horse farms in Massachusetts and more in New Hampshire and Maine,” Perpall said in an interview. “But there is nothing for the horsemen’s association to do. It’s up to the gaming commission and the track. It’s really not a racing matter.
“But it will have a major impact on us,” Perpall said. “If the gaming commission says they are not suitable, that means no slot license. And based on past statements, that would mean the end of Plainridge Racecourse.”
Jim Hardy, leading driver at the ⅝-mile harness track, tried to put a positive spin on the uncertain future. “We have had a great season so far. We are all excited we are so close to getting the license,” he said. “It’s been a long, painful wait.”
In addition to a recently completed 1,080-space parking garage on the track’s property near Route 1 and Interstate 495, Plainridge officials envision renovating the 50,000-square-foot building and adding a 106,000-square-foot facility with 1,250 slot machines, a restaurant, a food court, and bars.
Even if the gaming commission green-lights Plainridge’s application, Plainville voters must still approve the host agreement at a Sept. 10 ballot election.
Under the host agreement, Plainridge would pay the town $1.5 million in taxes on full commencement of gaming, and that payment would increase 2½ percent per year. Plainridge would also pay the town an annual $100,000 community impact fee.
In addition, Plainridge would pay the town $2.7 million annually as a host community payment in the first five years of slot operation. After that, Plainridge would pay a percentage of gross gaming revenue to the town.
Selectmen signed off on the agreement July 8.
com. Jose Martinez can be reached at martinezjose1@me.