The management of the Charles Town race track announced yesterday that New Jersey-based Showboat Operating Co., which owns and manages hotel and casino complexes, has purchased an option to buy the 250-acre track and adjacent Shenandoah Downs for $18 million.
However, the actual sale of the track is contingent upon the West Virginia legislature passing a bill allowing land-based and/or riverboat casinos in the state this year.
Keith Wagner, the president of Charles Town, said last night that chances appear "very slim" that the bill will be passed or that the track will change hands.
However, Wagner said, Showboat put down a sizable nonrefundable deposit, "and we decided to accept it for two reasons. First, we can use the revenue to reopen the plant [for simulcasting and live racing] in the next few weeks. Secondly, other casino operators are looking to purchase land in Martinsburg about 15 miles from us in Berkeley County.
"We thought we'd better protect our borders in case a casino bill is passed. By committing to Showboat, it means that they [Showboat] will be fighting for our interests in Charleston [the state capital]."
Wagner said that a stipulation in the contract ensures that live thoroughbred racing will continue.
Wagner said he advised Showboat officials, who first came to him about four weeks ago, that it is unlikely a casino bill will be passed and that local voters in Jefferson County, where the track is located, already have rejected the introduction of casino-type gambling at the facility.
However, Showboat proceeded to purchase the option. Showboat personnel could not be reached for comment last night.
Charles Town, after being shut for nearly three months, will reopen for simulcasting action next Friday and for live racing March 10.
Wagner said the option to sell to Showboat does not alter any of the plans to reopen.