Democracy In Action

Tonight I attended the “Post-Negotiation” Forum with the Town of Plainville presented by the Cummings Team. This forum was the final phase of the meetings held before the September 10th election where Plainville residents get to vote on whether or not to allow slot machines to be installed into Plainridge Raceway.  What was supposed to be a rather orderly process was complicated recently when the Massachusetts Gaming Commission declared  OurWay Realty (the former owners of Plainridge Racecourse) unfit to manage the proposed slot machines due to some prior business practices. To review some recent history, the Town of Plainville Board of Selectmen decided to proceed with the election, stating that the owners were disqualified–not the site or the town. The original purpose of the meeting was to explain to the voters the details of the Host Agreement Plainridge had signed with the Town. That was done very thoroughly, but obviously those attending the meeting were very interested in learning about the company that had bought Plainridge. All of the information about the Host Agreement between Plainridge and Plainville can be found on the Town of Plainville website. The Assignment and Assumption of Host Community Agreement can also be found on Plainville’s website. The agreement is between Ourway Realty, LLC, and Springfield Gaming and Redevelopment ,LLC (a company formed by Penn National Gaming). The agreement did not change–it was simply transferred to the new owners.

This week it was announced that Penn National Gaming has taken over Plainridge Racecourse and will apply for the license for the slot machines. Penn National Gaming representatives gave a short presentation about their company and explained that very few changes would be made to the original plans for the Racino. They gave a brief history of the company, which is publicly traded on NASDAQ. Chris McErlean, Vice-President, Racing, explained that the company’s forte is racing/gaming facilities. Eric Schippers, Senior Vice-President, Public Relations, explained that the goal of Penn National Gaming in getting involved in Plainridge was to save the racetrack. He explained that Penn National Gaming has a decentralized management philosophy and believes in local managers involved in the communities where their facilities are located.

The meeting was very positive, and I believe that Penn National Gaming would be a very suitable organization to run Plainridge Raceway. The representatives from Penn National Gaming did remind us that the vote in Plainville was only a part of the process. Even if the voters approve the slot machines, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission will decide whether or not to choose the site.

I would like to applaud the Plainville Board of Selectmen for allowing the vote to go forward on September 10 even though it looked as if there might not be anyone to takeover the racetrack. I would also like to applaud the representatives of Penn National Gaming for a very thorough and concise presentation explaining who they are and what their plans are for the future of Plainridge Raceway. Because of the foresight of the Board of Selectmen and the willingness of Penn National Gaming to get involved midway through the process, Plainville voters will have a chance to express their opinion.


Enhanced by Zemanta

The Twists And Turns Of Bringing Slot Machines To Plainville

On September 10, voters in Plainville, Massachusetts, will go to the polls and vote to determine whether or not to bring approximately 1200 slot machines into Plainridge Raceway. As you drive around Plainville, you see a lot of lawn signs. The majority of the ones I have seen support the slot machines, but I haven’t driven through all parts of the town. On Thursday there will be an information meeting for the voters held at the Wood School in Plainville, and on Sunday there will be a meeting held by the opponents of the slot machines at the Senior Center in Plainville. I plan to attend both meetings.

The Sun Chronicle featured two stories about the slot machines on its website today. The first story, titled “Gaming commission wants to hear from Plainville residents on transfer of slots agreement,” states that the Gaming Commission is holding off a decision on whether or not to approve the sale of Plainridge to Penn National Gaming until it has a chance to hear from the residents of the town. I assume that means that members of the Gaming Commission will be present at Thursday’s meeting.

The second story in the Sun Chronicle is titled, “Penn National has track record on race tracks, gambling venues.” That story deals with the reputation and past performance of the Penn National Gaming company.

That article reports:

This much is known: Penn National is one of the largest gambling concerns in the country. It owns 28 facilities that include casinos, race tracks with slot machines and stand-alone race tracks.

Michael Perpall, president of the Harness Horsemen’s Association of New England, said Penn National has a good reputation among horsemen and he is optimistic it would do a good job at Plainridge.

Clyde Barrows, who studies gambling at University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, also said the firm is a well-respected operator in the gaming industry.

“Penn is a publicly-traded company on NASDAQ with a recent share price above $53 and 2012 net income of $211.9 million,” he said.

The opposition group in Plainville is lead by Mary-Ann Greanier. Generally speaking, she has objected to everything said and done by the town and by Plainridge in this process. Her current complaint is that voters do not have enough information on Penn National. It seems to me that their reputation with both horsemen and the gambling industry is an indication that they are reputable people we can do business with. It would be nice if Ms.Greanier would simply admit that she doesn’t want the track and that she will oppose it on any grounds possible.

Enhanced by Zemanta

It’s Not Over Until The Fat Lady Sings

It’s not over until the fat lady sings. Well, she is about to enter the green room to warm up. Yesterday I reported on the decision of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to rule out Plainridge Racecourse as a suitable applicant for a slot machine license ( I support the slot machines for a variety of reasons and was very disheartened to read that the Gaming Commission had disqualified Plainridge. However, after reading about the reasons for the decision, I could totally understand why that decision was made.

If the decision stands, the Town of Plainville is the loser in this deal. Plainridge has operated in the town for fifteen years. Plainridge Racecourse is the only harness racing track in operation in Massachusetts. It has not made a profit during its time in Plainville, but has continually been a good neighbor to the town. It has paid taxes to the town and provided employment for a number of people in the town. There is a serious question as to whether or not Plainridge Racecourse will stay in business without the slot machine license. If Plainridge closes, is there a future for harness racing in Massachusetts? What happens to all of the beautiful horse farms in Plainville? So where are we now?

Domenic Longobardi was kind enough to give me a few minutes of his time today so I could ask him some questions about the past and future of Plainridge. He expressed disappointment that the Massachusetts Gaming Commission did not try to work with Plainridge to resolve the issue of misdeeds under previous management. He also pointed out that the people involved in those misdeeds are no longer in charge. He reminded me that from the time Plainridge was built the idea was to eventually bring in other avenues of gambling in order to keep the track afloat.

I asked Mr. Longobardi if the 9% of slot machine money that will go to support harness racing would be enough to keep Plainridge alive. He explained that the 9% of slot machine money would go to the harness racing purses–not to operating expenses at the tracks.

Mr. Longobardi mentioned the investment Plainridge has made in order to move forward with the slot machine permit. Plainridge has paid application fees to the Commonwealth of Massachuestts, paid consulting fees for the Town of Plainville, and invested money in a large parking garage to accommodate additional people visiting the facility.

Mr. Longobardi pointed out that although Ourway Realty is disqualified from obtaining the license to operate slot machines at Plainridge Racecourse, the location itself is not disqualified.

A reliable source told me this afternoon that there is another management organization planning to take over Plainridge and resubmit the application to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. That organization is experienced in the gaming industry and would actually be a better candidate to run Plainridge.

The bottom line is simple. It’s not over yet, and smart businessmen are working to find a solution that would meet the requirements of the Gaming Commission and the needs of the people of Plainville. I sincerely hope that something can be worked out.

Enhanced by Zemanta

One Man’s Actions Result In A Major Loss For A Town

The Attleboro Sun Chronicle reported today that the Massachusetts Gaming Commission has removed Plainridge Race Track, Plainville, Massachusetts, from consideration from Massachusetts’ one slot machine license.

The article reports:

It voted unanimously that the owners of the harness track had failed to demonstrate they could properly run a gambling establishment after admitting they did not realize former President Gary Piontkowski had been taking money from the track for years.

The track is now out of the running for the state’s sole slot machine license that had had five suitors.

The actions of one man will cost the Town of Plainville a projected income of $2 million a year.

The article further reports:

“But it has always been our commitment to establish that the integrity of this process is our single highest priority. No other considerations will compromise that commitment. I would like to take this opportunity to commend the tremendous work by the Investigations and Enforcement Bureau as well as our many partners in their ongoing efforts on these important matters.”

The bureau had uncovered the Piontkowski practice of taking money from the track, while the track reported the actions as disbursements.

When the bureau began asking questions, Piontkowski was replaced in April, although he and track officials claimed it was for health reasons.

Chief Financial Officer Timothy Peterson then resigned and did not appear at a commission hearing on the matter.

Principals Stanley Fulton and Alfred Ross said they were unaware of the situation and were passive investors.

Plainridge Race Track has been losing money for years. The slot machines were considered something that would save the track and save harness racing in Massachusetts. It is unfortunate that the actions of one man may result in the death of harness racing in the state.

Enhanced by Zemanta

When Government Actually Works

This is the link to the website for the Town of Plainville, Massachusetts. The town is run by a Board of Selectmen with an annual budget voted for by the voters in the town at an annual Town Meeting.

The issue before the Town right now is whether or not to allow Plainridge, a harness race track with simulcast racing in Plainville, to add 1200 slot machines to its facility. According to an internet directory of harness racing, there are only thirty-two harness racing tracks in North America.

There is a process that has to be followed to bring slot machines into a venue in Massachusetts. That process is controlled by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, and the Town of Plainville is in the midst of that process.

Tonight I attended a Board of Selectmen’s meeting where the agreement that has been reached between the Town and the owners of Plainridge was discussed and voted on by the Selectmen. The agreement was unanimously approved by the Selectmen, and the voters in the Town of Plainville will vote on whether or not they approve the slot machines on September 10th (after they have had a chance to review the agreement).

The agreement will be posted on the Town’s website, along with a summary of the agreement (for those who prefer Cliff Notes). There have been numerous hearings dealing with the impact of the slot machines on the small town, and there will be more hearings before the vote.

Plainridge race track has existed in the Town since 1998. Plainridge has been a very good neighbor to the town–exceeding public safety and security requirements at the track and giving generously to charities within the Town. I don’t gamble and am not interested in going there to gamble, but I believe they should be allowed to put in the slot machines simply because of the way they have conducted themselves in the Town in the past. As an observation, I don’t drink, but I’m not interested in closing down every establishment in Plainville that serves alcoholic beverages.

At any rate, I wrote this article to say how impressed I am with the way the government of Plainville is working through this process. The process has been transparent from the beginning, and the Selectmen have gone out of their way to make sure that the public is informed of the impact the slot machines will have on our little Town.

On September 10, I will be voting for the agreement–I am impressed with the management of Plainridge, and I am impressed with the leadership of the Town of Plainville.


Enhanced by Zemanta

The Discussion Continues

Last night I attended a hearing to discuss bringing 1,250 slot machines into the racetrack at Plainridge in Plainville, Massachusetts. I am a resident of Plainville and live less than five miles from the location of the track. Although I was opposed to the idea of bringing a casino into Foxboro, I support the idea of bringing the slot machines into Plainridge. I am not a gambler, but I am enough of a realist to know that there are people around me who genuinely enjoy gambling as a form of recreation. I don’t have a problem with that, assuming that they are not ruining their finances with that activity. Those who are ruining their financial situation by gambling are going to find a way to do it whether Plainridge introduces slot machines or not. I strongly suspect we will see internet gambling legalized within the next two years, and a lot of people who are addicted to gambling will turn to that rather than leaving their homes to gamble.

Gambling is already at Plainridge–there is sulky racing and simulcast racing. The town also has Keno in some of the local restaurants and lottery tickets at the local convenience stores. It seems a little odd that with those things in place there would be opposition to the slot machines.

One objection voiced last night was the idea that putting slot machines in Plainridge would negatively impact our elementary schools. I definitely need someone to explain to me how that would work–are the first graders going to be playing the slots?

The addition of slot machines will bring people to Plainridge. However, if you look on a map, you will see that Plainridge is on the edge of town, adjacent to a major highway–I suspect that the majority of the people who will frequent Plainridge because of the slot machines will never see the town! Those people will come and lose their money (the house wins on slot machines), the profits at Plainvridge will be taxed, some part of those taxes will go to the Town of Plainville, and everyone will live happily ever after.

One of the things mentioned last night was the social problems that can be associated with gambling. Guess what–those social problems are already here–even without the slot machines.

This whole discussion reminds me a a song from the Music Man:

Trouble, oh we got trouble,
Right here in River City!
With a capital “T”
That rhymes with “P”
And that stands for Pool,
That stands for pool.
We’ve surely got trouble!
Right here in River City,
Right here!
Gotta figger out a way
To keep the young ones moral after school!
Trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble…

We don’t have trouble here in Plainville–we have a business man who has been an asset to the community asking the town to help him keep his business alive. That is why I support the slot machines.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Moot Transparency

Last night I attended my town’s annual Town Meeting. The purpose of the meeting is to allow the voters to pass the budget for the coming year and discuss other issues put on the warrant by various town departments or petitioners. There were probably about 100 to 150 people there. There are about 5,400 registered voters in the town.

Town Meetings are like elections–a lot depends on who shows up. Last night was no exception. One of the major items being discussed in the town at this time is whether or not to allow the local racetrack to put in slot machines. The racetrack currently has off-track betting on horse and dog races along with simulcasts of various races. There is an element in the town that wants to prevent slot machines from being added. Now you might think that someone who writes a blog named rightwinggranny would be opposed to bringing in slot machines. I’m not. There has been some talk around town about the evils of gambling and the horror it would bring to the town. (Do you remember the song about “Pool” in the Music Man? That’s kind of the way some of the talk is going.) Until the convenience stores stop selling lottery tickets, churches stop playing Bingo, and charitable organizations stop holding raffles, I really think the arguments are rather hypocritical.

Why do I bring this up? Last night, the foes of the slot machines tried a backdoor approach to stopping them. They put an item on the warrant through petition requiring selectmen to have a cost-benefit analysis done on putting in slot machines; then they amended it demanding two independent studies. They further muddied the issue by implying that the selectmen in the town could not be trusted to be objective in studying the proposal or making a decision. The motion was defeated 83-33.

I am a strong supporter of transparency in government. Our selectmen meet weekly, and the meetings are open to the public and broadcast on cable TV. Anyone who is interested can see what is going on. The petitioners should have known that the selectmen had already planned the study they were requesting. The Town Administrator explained that the study was necessary because of the impact of the proposal. It was also explained that the Town Meeting does not have the authority to compel the selectmen to take a specific action.

If the opponents want to stop gambling in our town, they will have a chance to do it at the ballot box. There was no reason to act as though they did not trust the selectmen to make the decision. The selectmen serve three-year terms. If the group that opposes gambling does not trust them, they need to put forth their own candidate. As someone who has lived in this town for more than thirty years, I think our selectmen are trustworthy and perfectly capable of making the right decision.

Enhanced by Zemanta