New Castle News

August 31, 2012

Spring 2014 opening eyed for Ohio racetrack

Nancy Lowry
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Penn National expects to break ground for its Austintown Hollywood Casino this fall and open for business in spring, 2014.

Timothy J. Wilmott, president and chief operating officer of the Pennsylvania-based gaming facility, delivered his message yesterday to more than 500 attending the Early Bird Salute to Business Breakfast of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber of Commerce. The gathering was at Mr. Anthony’s Banquet Center in Boardman.

Presenting a video of Penn National’s history and 27 holdings in 18 states and Canada, Wilmott said “preliminary” plans are in place for the Hollywood Slots at Mahoning Valley Race Course, to be located on 184 acres in the Centerpoint Business Park near the intersection of Interstate 80 and Ohio Route 46.

A mild winter could result in a faster build and an earlier opening, he said.

Penn National Gaming Inc. is relocating two racetracks, Wilmott said. It plans to construct a 5/8-mile-long harness racetrack in Dayton, and a mile-long thoroughbred track is being moved from Columbus to Austintown.

The company is required to invest $125 million to build each facility. Each will result in about 1,000 construction jobs, about 1,000 direct and indirect jobs with a payroll of $15 million to $20 million.

Both will feature the Art Deco style favored by the parent company, and will include horse barns, grandstands at the finish line, restaurants, bars, entertainment venues, and about 2,000 parking spaces each.

Each casino will house 1,500 video lottery terminals, which are similar to slot machines.



ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY

In July, Penn National filed with the Ohio Lottery Commission for approval of video lottery terminals for its racetracks and it formally requested the Ohio Racing Commission’s approval to relocate two racetracks.

Under Ohio law, up to 2,500 slot-like terminals are allowed at each of the state’s seven racetracks.

Penn National will be required to pay $50 million for each racing license and has applied for a license to relocate each track at a cost of another $75 million.

In exchange, no gaming facility would be allowed within 50 miles of new establishments for 10 years, Wilmott said.

The Austintown facility will be the first to come under this limitation. However, details of this relocation license have not yet been worked out by the Ohio legislature.

Wilmott said these fees are not required to be paid until after the facility is up and running in 2014.

 In 2009, Ohio voters approved legislation allowing four casinos to be located in Cleveland, Toledo, Columbus and Cincinnati.

On May 28, Penn National opened a new casino in Toledo, he said.  In about six weeks it plans to open one in Columbus. The decision was made to relocate racetracks in those cities, he said, “so we wouldn’t be competing with ourselves for gaming dollars.”

He said the Youngstown area was selected  “because its population is under served” by gaming facilities.

Wilmott said this week was his first opportunity to visit the Austintown site.

He said he is pleased with the location and interstate access and joked that the facility has an environmental consideration.

“It will keep people off the roads going to New York, West Virginia and other gaming destinations.”



STILL ON TRACK

Wilmott said for a racetrack/casino complex on this side of the Penn/Ohio border in Mahoning Township “shouldn’t affect our plans or prevent our project from going forward.”

American Harness Tracks chairman Charles Long said his organization is not yet in the position to anticipate a groundbreaking.

Although American Harness holds the state-issued license to conduct harness racing, a change in the investors of the organization has required action by the Pennsylvania State Harness Racing Commission to investigate the new financial partners.

“We are moving the process ahead as aggressively as we can,” Long said yesterday.

Although the Harness Commission staff has been directed to “move ahead with all haste” on its investigation, Long said he has no timetable for when to expect action.

“After we hear from the Harness Commission, we will take the next immediate step which is to present our application to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. We are prepared to do that,” he said.

“We have no control over who opens first,” Long said. “What is in our control is to build a facility that is competitive from an amenities standpoint. What is most important is not bringing people through the door first but bringing them through the door again and again. That is what we are focused on.”

(Email: nlowry@ncnewsonline.com)