New Castle News

Local News

June 2, 2012

Time running out for track-casino in county

NEW CASTLE — Time is running out for a casino and harness racing track in Lawrence County.

Last week, Chuck Long, chairman of the board of American Harness Tracks, and Joseph Canfora, chief executive officer of Merit Management Group, the Chicago firm American Harness selected to manage the proposed facility, said an announcement on the local track “will be made soon.”

Both declined to comment further.

But this week, neither could be reached following the announcement that a lawsuit by the Ohio Roundtable has been dismissed.

That suit, challenging efforts to place video lottery terminals at Ohio’s seven racetracks, has held up progress by Pennsylvania-based Penn National Gaming to proceed with plans to build a $150 million thoroughbred racetrack off Interstate 80 in Austintown.

If Penn National clears all legal and regulatory hurdles, and builds its planned Austintown facility, hopes for a similar venture in Lawrence County are likely to be thwarted.

American Harness’ plans include a one-mile track and a $150 million grandstand-clubhouse and casino in Mahoning Township, west of New Castle and near the Ohio border.

In November, American Harness received the license to operate a racetrack in Lawrence County.

It must now apply to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board for a license to operate 2,000 slot machines and 34 table games.

With delays caused by the lawsuit out of the way, Penn National Gaming spokesman Bob Tenenbaum said, his company plans to move ahead.

The lawsuit caused delays, but Tenenbaum would not speculate how much.

“In the meantime, we purchased property needed for the Dayton and Austintown racetracks. We own that property now.”

Tenenbaum said Penn National spent $4.65 million to buy 186 acres in the Austintown area for the proposed thoroughbred track.

He noted thoroughbred tracks, often a mile long, require more room than harness tracks, which are generally shorter.

“We haven’t yet said what the dimensions will be,” he noted. “The track and the project are still in the design stage.”

In addition to the track, plans include stables, a grandstand and a video lottery terminal facility with an estimated 2,500 machines, as well as restaurants and bars.

Tenenbaum said Penn National expects to spend $200 million for each of the anticipated tracks “but that includes the $50 million license fee.”

He would not speculate when ground could be broken.

“It will take us 18 months to build,” he said, adding that even if everything falls into place, “we would be looking at an early 2014 opening.”

Penn National anticipates creating approximately 1,000 construction jobs and 1,500 jobs when the facility opens. This includes full- and part-time jobs there plus others created by companies providing goods and services to the facility.

Tenenbaum suggested anyone interested in a sneak peek of what the Austintown facility will probably look like should visit the $320 million Toledo casino that opened this week. Penn National will open a $400 million casino in Columbus in October.

“People didn’t know what to expect and were surprised when they walked in,” he said of the Toledo site. “It’s drop-dead gorgeous.”

He said the Austintown site will be similar.

(Email: nlowry@ncnewsonline.com)

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