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HARRISBURG, PA-The Pennsylvania State Gaming Control Board has unanimously approved slot-machine gambling licenses for five racetracks. The Category 1 licenses, which apply only to horse-racing tracks, are the first to be granted under a law allowing 14 in all.

The approvals went to Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course in Grantville, Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs near Wilkes-Barre, Philadelphia Park Casino in Bensalem, Harrah’s Chester in Chester and the Meadows in Washington near Pittsburgh. Although seven of the 14 licenses are reserved for Category 1 sites, there are no losers yet in the racetrack category. Just one additional application was filed. It is for Presque Isle Downs in Erie. The public hearing regarding that site was delayed until yesterday; the board intends to vote on the application in October.

The initial approvals are conditional, pending fulfillment of a list of conditions established by the board to ensure that all the state gaming law’s regulations are met in each location. Permanent approval is anticipated in January 2007.

Wyomissing-based Penn National Gaming began construction of the opening $260-million phase of its Hollywood Casino in August. In a statement, the gaming company’s CEO Peter Carlino calls the conditional license “a significant step in advancing one of Penn National’s most important development projects.” Plans call for an early 2008 opening.

Robert Soper, president of Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, tells GlobeSt.com it plans to open a $70-million first phase before yearend. A $135-million second phase will follow. Uncasville, CT-based Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority acquired the property from Penn National Gaming in October 2004.

Las Vegas-based Millennium Gaming Inc. acquired the Meadows from Aurora, ON-based Magna Entertainment Corp. in July for $225 million. It has hired Buffalo, NY-based LPCiminelli as general contractor for a $450-million project that includes an initial temporary casino followed by a permanent one in 2008.

As GlobeSt.com previously reported, Las Vegas-based Harrah’s Entertainment broke ground in Chester in June 2005 for the harness racing phase of a $392-million Harrah’s Chester casino. Greenwood Gaming & Entertainment Inc., which operates Philadelphia Park, currently is hiring with plans to open its casino by the end of the year. Calls to Harrah’s, Millennium and Greenwood were not returned by deadline.

In addition to the racetrack licenses, the gaming control board is authorized to grant five Category 2 licenses for standalone slot-machine casinos and two Category 3 licenses for existing resorts. Two of the five Category 2 licenses are reserved for Philadelphia, one for Pittsburgh and two at what the board terms “tourism-enhanced” locations. The board is scheduled to act on the licenses no later than January 2007.

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