Ownership hot potato

Meadows Racetrack began as the most local of operations and would up being run by the most far-flung owners of any Pennsylvania racetrack.

California-born Delvin Miller came to live on his grandparent’s farm in southwestern Pennsylvania in 1919 after his father died when he was five years old. When he was still in high school in 1929, Del took a horse named Donna Jones he had broken and trained over to the Burgettstown Fair to race. He finished fourth and won $9.

Delvin Miller was still driving and training horses into the 1990s, winning 2,442 races and banking more than $11 million in purses.

In 1963, when pari-mutuel wagering became legal in Pennsylvania, Miller was the driving force behind the Washington Trotting Association that broke ground for a new standardbred racetrack on a farm 25 miles south of Pittsburgh. The track opened on June 28, 1963, taking its name from Miller’s nearby Meadow Lands Farm.

Much of Miller’s stake in the new Meadows Racetrack could be traced back to a single horse auction he attended in 1948 after getting out of the Army, where he won two Bronze Stars driving mules along the Burma Road in southeast Asia.

Miller weathered a two-man bidding war for a former world champion pacer named Adios, owned by movie mogul Harry Warner. He paid $21,000 for Adios and took the eight-year old stallion back to Meadow Lands to stand at stud.

Over the next 17 years Adios became the greatest harness horse sire who ever lived. Of his 579 offspring, 500 became winners on the racetrack, earning more than $15 million.

The Meadows rapidly emerged as Pennsylvania’s premiere harness track. On August 4, 1975 the Washington County racing center reached it highpoint in attendance when 14,672 fans came out to watch the trotters and pacers.

In the 1980s the Meadows helped pioneer phone wagers from individual accounts with Call-A-Bet and introduced its own Meadows Racing Network to telecast live races and a tips-and-pregame racing show.

In 1986 the track was purchased by Pittsburgh lawyer Stuart A. Williams. It would be the last time the Meadows would operate under anything resembling local ownership.

In 1988 Williams sold the Meadows to Ladbrokes, the venerable British gaming company that traces its roots back to 1886. Ladbrokes then used the harness track as a way in to opening six off-track betting parlors in western Pennsylvania, as allowed by a new state law.

In 2001 the Meadows Race Track entered the stable of Magna Entertainment Corporation, an Ontario, Canada-based management group that operated such prestigious American racetracks as Santa Anita Park in California, Gulfstream Park in Florida, and Pimlico in Baltimore, home to the second leg of racing’s Triple Crown, the Preakness. By that time the Meadows was hosting its own leg of Pacing’s Triple Crown, the Messenger Stakes.

When it became obvious that as an operating racetrack the Meadows was in line for one of Pennsylvania’s first slots licenses, Magna passed ownership to Cannery Casino Resorts, a Las Vegas gaming operator.

Magna stayed on with a five-year contract to manage the racing operations while the Buffalo, New York gaming and racing construction firm of LPCiminelli was brought in to shepherd the $450 million casino to completion.

On June 11, 2007 a temporary casino with 1,738 slot machines opened at the Meadows; the permanent casino, with 350,000 square feet, took its first bets on April 15, 2009.

Towards the end of 2007 it appeared ownership of the Meadows Race Track would move even further afield, halfway around the world to a gaming company owned by Australian billionaire James Packer. A deal was announced but it later morphed into Packer buying only a minority interest.

Even as ownership has drifted further and further away one thing has remained constant at the Washington County Track – its biggest race, the Delvin Miller Adios Pace for the Orchids, continues to honor its two hometown horse racing legends, as it has every year since 1967.

Meadows’ usual customer

The bulk of Meadows gamblers drain down Interstate 79 from Pittsburgh. Although for most of its 50-year existence there has never been another Pennsylvania racetrack within 225 miles, the Meadows has always dueled with nearby West Virginia racinos for bettors.

The typical Meadows casino customer has always been thought of as the type that arrives in buses clutching buffet coupons. But that image has shifted in recent years, spurred on by gambling money and the pulsating natural gas industry.

Where the racino was once the only structure of consequence on the horizon, it is now the linchpin of a tourist industry that features retail centers and big-name hotels. There are now nearly 1000 hotel rooms within eight miles of the racino.

Meadows slots and table games

Only Philadelphia’s thoroughbred track, Parx, does better business among the state’s racinos. The Meadows jostles with Parx for the Pennsylvnia’s most slot machines, typically in the neighborhood of 3300, but in the number of table games the Washington County facility ranks among the Commonwealth’s smaller casinos.

The number of tables has dropped from 80 in 2012 to 75 in 2013 yet gross revenues were up, a phenomenon at least partly explained by the continued influx of out-of-state workers coming to southwestern Pennsylvania to tap the natural gas in the Marcellus shale.

Cannery Casino Resorts other properties

Cannery Casino Resorts continues to own the Meadows Racetrack and Casino, as it has throughout the casino gambling era. Bill Paulos is the co-founder and principal of the Millennium Management Group, parent company of Cannery (asset management company Oaktree Capital also owns 42% of the racino).

Paulos earned a degree in hotel administration from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in 1969 and has spent his entire career in the hospitality and gaming industry. He started Millennium Management Group in 1997 to develop Greektown Casino in downtown Detroit, Michigan.

Cannery currently owns two casino properties in Las Vegas, each stamped with the company name badge. The Meadows Race Track is the only racino in its portfolio although Cannery has held an option to purchase Rockingham Park racetrack in New Hampshire since 2005, which will be executed if the Granite State ever legalizes casinos.

Meadows Racetrack’s current poker room

The new poker room at the Meadows was unveiled in August 2013 and immediately achieved star status with an open view of action on the racetrack and full menu service for players from the Terrace restaurant.

The 15 tables, down from the old room’s 20, feature action any time of the day. Six of the tables are reserved for tournament play.

Unique concert venue and VIP bowling

Beyond the normal casino and horse racing fare Meadows Racetrack & Casino stages an Outdoor Concert Series every summer in a 3,000-seat performance venue. Over the years such recognizable names as Peter Frampton, prog rock icons Yes, Bill Cosby, Bobby Vinton and Willie Nelson have taken the stage.

The Meadows also offers recreational bowling on 24 state-of-the-art synthetic lanes. Another four alleys are housed in a V.I.P. suite for private events. A full bar, 42-inch flat screen television monitors at every lane and a house-wide sound system are at the ready to distract keglers from missed spares and bad scores.

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Steve Ruddock

Steve Ruddock

Steve covers nearly every angle of online poker in his job as a full-time freelance poker writer. His primary focus is the developing legal and legislative picture for regulated US online poker and gambling.