New Castle News

Editorials

March 29, 2013

Our Opinion: Tracking progress

Race for local casino projects is thrown new curve

NEW CASTLE — It’s said an old Chinese curse goes: May you live in interesting times.

That can be taken a lot of different ways, but we’re pretty sure the local saga over horse tracks and casinos falls into this category.

Lawrence County residents who have been following the story know to what we refer. For years now, efforts have been under way to establish a harness racing track and related casino in Mahoning Township, near the Ohio border. The effort has undergone a variety of evolutions and gyrations, with the latest involving proposed financial backing from a group of Philadelphia-based investors.

And, by the way, this group is looking at having Penn National Gaming — a major track and casino operator — managing the facility.

That’s all well and good, we suppose. But the local involvement of Penn National coincides with a competing track and casino plan being pushed in Austintown, Ohio. Penn National is the company behind that project, and one is left to ponder the various financial aspects of this company being involved in two initiatives that are obviously in competition with each other.

Although arguments have been raised to the contrary, it’s worth asking whether this region of western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio realistically can support two major gambling outlets. This comes at a time when other facilities are already in full operation in Cleveland, Erie, Pittsburgh, Washington and West Virginia. It seems difficult to believe local casinos will be able to draw gamblers from very far away.

So from the standpoint of the casual observer, the progress of the Mahoning Township and Austintown projects are something of a horse race, pardon the pun. If one moves ahead and becomes a reality, will the financing for the other actually manifest itself?

With the local project seemingly struggling to put together a financial package, for the past few months much of the action has been in Ohio, as Penn National worked with state and local officials to arrange the transfer of a thoroughbred horse track from Columbus to Austintown, a project which appeared to be moving forward smoothly.

But this week, the Ohio Racing Commission, which must approve the new track, threw up a big roadblock, rejecting Penn National’s designs for its facility. The state agency basically wants a much larger site for track fans, while Penn National argues the real demand will be on the casino end of things.

Bottom line: This is likely to delay Penn National’s plans in Ohio by at least four to six months.

What does all this mean? We have followed the track and casino story for too long now to make any predictions. All we can say is that this race is still on.

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