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April 30, 2012

Hurdles remain for Penn National’s Ohio racetrack

NEW CASTLE — The finish line is not yet in sight for Penn National Gaming.

The Pennsylvania-based racetrack/casino operation last week plunked down more than $4.6 million for 186 acres in Austintown where it plans to construct a thoroughbred racetrack.

But a few hurdles remain before the project can be considered approaching the home stretch, said Penn National spokesman Bob Tenenbaum.

The company closed on the property deal at Center Pointe Business Park along Interstate 80 and Route 46 on April 20.

“It made good business sense to acquire the property right now,” Tenenbaum said. “But we’re no closer to building a track (there) at this time.”

Tenenbaum added that property in Dayton, for an anticipated harness racetrack, was purchased about two months ago.

“Also, because it was the right time to do it.”

Penn National has had an option to purchase the property since January 2011 when its intentions to relocate racetracks were first announced.

CONTINGENT PLANS

However, Penn National officials said the racetrack plans are contingent on Ohio lawmakers allowing video lottery terminals at racetracks. These terminals are similar to slot machines.

The machines currently are a focus of a lawsuit by The Ohio Roundtable which has claimed Ohio’s governor and legislators lack constitutional authority to place terminals at racetracks. They say changes to the Ohio constitution are required and want the issue placed before voters as a ballot issue.

In addition, Penn National must work out details with the Ohio Racing Commission to relocate Beulah Park near Columbus and Raceway Park, a harness racetrack in Toledo.

In March, Penn National reached an understanding with the office of Ohio Gov. John Kasich on some of these issues, but legislative and racing commission confirmation is needed.

Tenenbaum said he anticipates the legislature will vote next month and that the racing commission will resolve issues at their next meeting. But he said the lawsuit remains a hurdle.

“But we’re confident the issues will be resolved,” he said.

He explained that Penn National is in the process of building casinos in Toledo and Columbus and does not want to compete with itself for gaming revenue. He estimated the Toledo casino will open on May 29. Penn National anticipates a Thanksgiving opening for the casino in Columbus.

When the path has been cleared for the Austintnown site, he said, it will take 18 months to construct a $100 million racetrack facility.

“We’ve done this a few times,” he said. “We know how long it will take to do the job. We just don’t know when we’ll be able to start.”

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