New Castle News

Closer Look

March 15, 2013

Penn National might manage local track/casino

NEW CASTLE — Penn National Gaming may be managing Lawrence County’s racetrack/casino — while owning and operating a thoroughbred track in Austintown.

“It’s taken time and effort to get to this point,” said Chuck Long, a Lawrence County native and partner in Philadelphia-based Endeka Entertainment, which wants to have a harness racing track and casino here.

“We’re excited. We received the conditional approval of the Pennsylvania Harness Racing Commission and excited that we finally have a team in place — Penn National Gaming will be the guy to manage the operation.”

Long said Endeka “took quite a while” evaluating options and opportunities.

“At the end of the day, we have the largest gaming company in the world committed to our project.”

Pennsylvania-based Penn National operates 27 holdings in 18 states and Canada.

However, nothing will happen immediately.

The Pennsylvania Harness Racing Commission Thursday gave Endeka its third extension — until May 31 — to find money to build a multimillion-dollar complex in Mahoning Township, contract a management firm to run it and apply for a casino license from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

Long said funding is in place and a management company has been found. All that remains, he said, it to complete the cumbersome paperwork for the gaming application.

Thursday was the deadline established by the racing commission in January to complete those three conditions.

In a letter dated Thursday, George Crawford, the commission’s executive secretary, said the negotiations between Endeka and Penn National “has given this commission optimism that the project can be completed under the established terms.”

“We’ve been given until May 31,” Long said. “On or before that date we will be submitting our application.”

Then, he said, the gaming board will “review, evaluate and hopefully approve what we place before them.”

Long said the gaming board typically takes six months to a year to review applications.

He said he hopes the Endeka application “will not require a lot of work on their part, that all documents will be in order. They’ve already reviewed and approved Penn National.”

Long said the $225 million to $250 million initial project proposed by Endeka “is downsized from the $400 million Centaur Gaming had anticipated spending, but it is a sizable facility.”

Long said he is aware the $125 million racetrack project with 1,500 video lottery terminals in Austintown “is still on Penn National’s radar.

“They have investigated the region of Ohio and Pennsylvania and believe there are opportunities,” he said, noting Penn National would be managing the Pennsylvania project but owning and operating the one 40 minutes away in Austintown.

“We remain completely committed to our Austintown project,” Penn National spokesman Bob Tenenbaum said, “and are hoping to move full steam ahead once we obtain the approval of the Ohio State Racing Commission.

“As it relates to Valley View Downs, as a policy we don’t comment on ongoing discussions or speculation.”

Earlier this week the Ohio Racing Commission expressed concerns about seating and stable space at the planned Austintown track and the harness racetrack Penn National plans for Dayton.

Tenenbaum said an adapted plan will be presented to the commission Tuesday.

He noted the commission may vote then on Penn National’s request to relocate the racetracks.

“If they don’t, we anticipate that they will schedule a special meeting in March to vote on the relocation.”

(Email: nlowry@ncnewsonline.com)

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