A conditional permit will be granted once Penn National takes over the Bangor facility.

AUGUSTA (AP) – The Maine Harness Racing Commission voted unanimously Friday to grant a conditional license to Bangor Historic Track once 100 percent of the stock is transferred to Penn National Gaming.

Having a racing license, which is expected to be granted next week, means Penn National could install slot machines at Bangor’s Bass Park late next month under the state law approved by voters in November.

The vote broke a procedural logjam a day after Las Vegas developer Shawn Scott announced his plan to sell Bangor Historic Track.

It also brought to a close a contentious public hearing on whether Scott was suitable to operate a racetrack casino in Maine.

Under the plan, a conditional license is expected to be granted next week and racing dates will be assigned at the harness racing commission’s next meeting on Feb. 12 if Penn National meets licensing requirements.

But the company will still have to undergo the same rigorous background check undertaken on Scott and his associates. There’s no time frame, but a Penn National spokesman believes the process can be expedited.

The commission’s hearing moved forward in fits and starts after a 24-hour delay following the sales agreement announcement.

Assistant Attorney General Jack Richards balked at an earlier proposal for a conditional license without the transfer of ownership.

Ultimately, Penn National agreed to assume full ownership of Bangor Historic Track despite many unresolved questions, including the possibility that the state’s racino law will be changed by the Legislature.

The way the law is written, a license to operate a racino would be granted 45 days after the Legislature went into session. But the Legislature could interfere if it adopts Gov. John Baldacci’s law to regulate racinos.

“This is the best solution we could reach in order to move forward with the process,” said Penn National spokesman Eric Schippers.

Scott told commissioners Thursday that he had decided to sell Bangor Historic Track to Penn National because he had become a lightning rod for criticism and a distraction from efforts to bring slot machines to Bangor.

He had purchased Bangor Historic Track for roughly $1 million and recently spent $575,000 on improvements. He also spent $1.5 million on the referendum campaign that paved the way for slot machines.

But a background report said one of Scott’s business associates had criminal convictions, that Scott had been uncooperative with regulators and that Scott’ companies demonstrated “sloppy, if not irresponsible, financial management and accounting practices.”

Schippers suggested that a state background check necessary for Penn National could be expedited because Penn National already has passed muster in seven other states. He said Penn National supports Baldacci’s efforts to put into effect strong regulations.

The Bangor deal marked an unlikely marriage of two bitter adversaries in the racino debate in Maine.

Scott’s Capital Seven sued the state’s other racetrack, Scarborough Downs, after it chose to work with Penn National.

Scott’s associates were active in a campaign to discredit Penn National as residents in Westbrook and Saco voted on slots. Penn National responded with a lawsuit of its own over one of Scott’s ads.

Even while publicly fighting, there were some behind-the-scenes discussions. The talks picked up steam after Penn National and Scarborough Downs lost their bid to convince voters in Saco and Westbrook to allow slot machines.

The compromise that set the stage for the commission’s order Friday was hammered out by Penn National and Capital Seven during a 21/2-hour recess after the commission made it plain that it could not approve a conditional license until the two sides clarified ownership of Bangor Historic Track.

During the morning session, members of the harness racing industry expressed concern that the controversy over slot machines and licensing was overshadowing the need to act quickly to set racing days so that owners and trainers could plan for the upcoming meet.

Without timely action, “the only people who are going to make any money out of this are the lawyers,” William Hathaway of the Maine Harness Horsemen’s Association said before the deal was reached.

AP-ES-01-09-04 1753EST



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