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May 3, 2013

Local officials keep hope alive for track

NEW CASTLE — Penn National Gaming’s plans to proceed with an Austintown racetrack has not killed hopes for a Lawrence County track/casino.

“We’re still in a holding pattern,” state Sen. Elder Vogel Jr. said.

He noted the Pennsylvania Harness Racing Commission has given Endeka Entertainment an extension to May 31 to find the financing. “If they find the financing, we can expect to see our project move ahead.”

This week’s approval by the Ohio Racing Commission of Penn National’s plans to relocate two tracks has made local officials more determined to see the $150 million local project proposed by Philadelphia-based Endeka Entertainment for Mahoning Township. Endeka took over the project last year.

Noting it has been “on hold” for the past six years, Vogel said the local project would prove to be superior, if completed.

“If they get the financing ... we will have live table games, which is what people want. Penn National has yet to get permission for video display terminals in Ohio, which no one really wants.”

Even if Penn National breaks ground first, he said, “it will take 12 to 18 months to get a casino up and running. We could see that part of the project opening about the same time as theirs.”

Delays “have been very frustrating,” Vogel said, referring to the decade-long process. “Everyone keeps waiting for something to happen and nothing does.”

“It was not surprising that Penn National got the Ohio Racing Commission OK,” state Rep. Chris Sainato said. “We want to see something happening with ours. What happens in Ohio will not affect us.”

Sainato said a full-scale casino, as planned for Mahoning Township, offers a more attractive gaming destination than the Austintown facility, which will provide only video slot terminals.

Such a casino “can co-exist in this market. There is still a lot of potential.

“We can’t focus on what is going on in Ohio,” Sainato continued. “We must focus on what is going on here.”

By the May 31 deadline, Endeka must provide the harness commission with proof it has sufficient funds to construct a $170 million racetrack/casino, a contract with a management company to operate it, an agreement with a horsemen’s association and an application submitted to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board for a casino license.

“I can’t wait until I hear that the application is before the gaming board,” Sainato said. “That will mean that the $50 million fee has been put down and we’re on our way.”

He noted a local partner, Chuck Long, has said he wants to see the project done right.

“That’s what we all want to see,” he said. “We believe that the people involved know what they’re doing.”

Thursday morning, Long said he could not comment.

“We’re still better located,” Lawrence County Commissioner Dan Vogler said. “We have more to offer as a one-mile track and with table games.”

Vogler said the nearness of the Austintown facility to the proposed Mahoning track/casino should not derail the local project.

“Southwestern Pennsylvania has two casinos within 25 miles of each other — The Rivers and The Meadows. Both are thriving. There is no reason to believe that will not be the case here.”

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