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April 17, 2013

Ohio tracks still waiting for design decision

NEW CASTLE — The wait for a racetrack in Austintown continues.

The Ohio State Racing Commission members Tuesday agreed to extend the time it will take to reach a decision on the design of racetracks proposed by Penn National Gaming Inc.

Penn National spokesman Bob Tenenbaum said officials made “an extensive presentation” outlining compromises the gaming giant plans to make at the two racetrack sites.

“We explained how we planned to move forward ..., compared what we are proposing to other sites through the United States and asked the commission to reassess the project and allow us to build as we proposed.”

Tenenbaum said Penn National is willing to “accept some conditions,” including taking another look at the facility a year after it opens and determine if expansion is needed.

The commission and Penn National remain at odds over “indoor, climate-controlled, full view of the track” seating to be included in the facility. Penn National’s plans propose 518 seats that meet that definition and a total of 1,410 seats that include outdoor bleachers.

Ohio officials earlier had called for more than 600 indoor seats with views of the track.

“We believe what we offer in Austintown and Dayton is more than adequate,” Tenenbaum said.

Ohio officials, including the horsemen’s association, have expressed concerns that Penn National is not offering enough seating, he said.

“They’re concerned that people will come in, not find a seat, say ‘It’s too crowded,’ and leave. We’re concerned that someone might come in, look around and not see anyone. In the hospitality industry, you don’t want either of those scenarios.”

The commission, he said, has agreed to continue to consider the issue. The commission’s next scheduled meeting is May 16, but the board will decide in the next seven to 10 days if a special meeting will be called.

”We’re in a delay situation at this time,” he said, adding, “No one expected the commission to take a vote today on this. We had anticipated that an update would be held.”

Tenenbaum said Penn National has currently “deactivated” the Austintown site pending a resolution, and called off plans to award contracts for foundation work and structural steel.

“We had been within a week of awarding those contracts.”

Penn National is committed to construct two $125 million facilities — a thoroughbred track in Austintown and a harness racetrack in Dayton. It also agreed to pay the state a $75 million relocation fee and $50 million license fee for each project.

(Email: nlowry@ncnewsonline.com)

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