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February 26, 2013

Ohio racetrack project takes another step

NEW CASTLE — Penn National Gaming will present its plans for a $125 million Austintown racetrack to the Ohio Racing Commission next week.

Details of relocating the thoroughbred racetrack from a Columbus suburb to Austintown will be presented at a special meeting March 7.

The presentation also will include Penn National’s plans to relocate a harness track from Toledo to Dayton.

The commission is not expected to vote immediately, but could take up the issue at its regular meeting, scheduled for March 21.

Penn National spokesman Bob Tenenbaum said the proposal has not changed since it was first presented in Youngstown early in 2011.

He added the $125 million price tag does not include fees, which must be paid by the Pennsylvania-based organization prior to opening the facility. Those fees include $75 million to relocate each racetrack license and a $50 million fee to be paid to the Ohio Lottery Commission for a vending license to operate 1,500 video lottery terminals which Penn National plans to place at the racetrack.

The track license relocation fee was determined following an agreement with the office of Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Although the project is moving ahead, Tenenbaum said, no “formal ground breaking” for the project has been set.

“Before we do that, we need to hear from the lottery commission” regarding the video lottery terminals, he said.

Six Ohio racetrack operators currently have requests before the commission, Tenenbaum said. To date, only one — Scioto Downs in Columbus — has received a license to operate as a video lottery retailer. A building with 2,100 video lottery terminals opened at that racetrack in June.

“Because it is dealing with so many (requests) the lottery commission is not taking up our request separately,” he said, adding, “We don’t expect to have any difficulty. We already have been approved and licensed by the state to operate casinos in Ohio.”

Tenenbaum noted Penn National is continuing with preliminary work at the site.

“We’re moving ahead with the project,” he said. “This presentation before the racing commission is a significant step. We’re optimistic we will continue to move forward without any delay.”

The Lawrence County project for a multimillion-dollar racetrack/casino in Mahoning Township hit a snag last month. Developers Endeka Entertainment requested and obtained more time, until March 14, to meet conditions set by the Pennsylvania State Harness Racing Commission.

Even if the Lawrence County project proceeds, “it won’t change our plans,” Tenenbaum said.

“After the Ohio Racing Commission approves our plan, the only major step left will be the lottery commission to approve the (video lottery terminals.) We anticipate no difficulties.

Penn National operates 27 holdings in 18 states and Canada.

(Email: nlowry@ncnewsonline.com)

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