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CHESTER, PA-In anticipation of opening for the racing season that begins in April 2006, developers of Chester Downs Racetrack and Casino have broken ground at the former Sun Ship ship-building site here. The project is a 50/50 joint venture between Las Vegas-based Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. and locally based Chester Downs Marina LLC, which is a partnership among Joseph Lashinger, George Miller and Kevin Flynn.

The 5/8-mile harness racing track is Phase I of the plan, and the JV has been granted a license to operate the track. This phase calls for a 1,500-seat grandstand, simulcast facilities and various food and beverage venues, including a 24-hour restaurant, lounge and 300-seat clubhouse dining area. Existing industrial buildings on the site are being gutted for redevelopment as the indoor facilities at the track.

Phase II is a casino aggregating approximately 700,000 sf with 2,500 slot machines. Progress with that aspect of the facility awaits approval of a slots license from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Providing approval is granted soon, the developers hope to open Phase II in third-quarter 2006.

The overall development cost is $392 million, according to a 10-K filing by Harrah’s. Vince Donlevie, SVP and general manager of the racetrack and casino that will bear the Harrah’s name, says the site encompasses 64 acres. It is located along the Delaware River approximately six miles south of Philadelphia International Airport and is also designed to include a marina.

Legislation allowing for up to 61,000 slot machines in Pennsylvania passed the state legislature and is a key component of Gov. Ed Rendell’s budget. State revenue from slots was to be targeted to schools, allowing reductions in municipal property taxes that fund public education. Schools are able to opt in or out of slot funding, and, on May 30, one in five of the commonwealth’s school boards voted against accepting revenues from slots. The decisions are not expected to stall the granting of slots licenses.

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