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May 2, 2013

Ohio gives Penn National the go-ahead

NEW CASTLE — The Ohio Racing Commission Wednesday gave Penn National Gaming the green light to relocate two racetracks.

The approval was unanimous to transfer a thoroughbred racetrack from Columbus to Austintown and a harness track from Toledo to Dayton.

Both are expected to open in mid-2014.

The commission’s action indicated it has overcome concerns that seating offered at the facilities would not be adequate. Penn National had insisted its proposed design, based on conditions at its existing facilities, is adequate and requiring a redesign to add more seats would delay the projects and add significantly to costs.

Wednesday, the commission approved Penn National’s plan for 1,001 seats with a view of the track at the Austintown site and 1,037 track-facing seats in Dayton.

Both projects will now resume with minimal delay, according to Penn National spokesman Bob Tenenbaum.

“The commission approved the plan we submitted last week, on the condition that we do both Phase I and Phase II at this time with 1,001 seats,” he said.

“We are not required to redesign the building. We will resume construction within a matter of days.”

With human accommodations decided, the focus will turn to horses.

Tenenbaum said plans initially called for 500 stalls; that will be increased to 700. The horsemen’s association, he said, had asked for 1,100. “But we don’t feel the site is capable of holding that many (horses) due to the wetlands.”

Penn National still must obtain the OK of the Ohio Lottery Commission to operate video lottery terminals. Each facility is expected to have 1,500 terminals, which are similar to slot machines.

Tenenbaum said he does not anticipate a problem.

“We passed an extensive investigation by the racing commission already,” he said. “We don’t think the lottery commission will have objections.”

He added the application already has been submitted to the lottery commission.

“They told us they would wait until after the racing commission acted.”

Tenenbaum said Penn National had been ready to let contracts for foundation and structural steel when the seating issue caused the project to shut down. He said only about a month of construction has been lost.

He said the project will result in about 1,000 construction jobs and another 1,000 “direct and non-direct jobs” once the facility opens.

Both racetracks were relocated so they would not compete with Las Vegas-style casinos Penn National operates in both cities.

With regard to Penn National’s possible involvement in managing the proposed Lawrence County track and casino, Tenenbaum said, “It is not the policy of the company to discuss potential business opportunities.”

A harness racetrack and casino was proposed for Mahoning Township nearly a decade ago, but still has not been built.

The Austintown track will be on 184 acres at Centerpointe Business Park. The Dayton track will be on 125 acres of an abandoned Delphi Automotive plant.

Penn National has committed to spend $125 million to construct Hollywood Mahoning Valley Racecourse in Austintown and Hollywood Dayton Raceway. Both will include bars and restaurants.

It also will pay a $75 million relocation fee to move each of the tracks and a $50 million video lottery terminal licensing fee for each facility.

(Email: nlowry@ncnewsonline.com)

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