New Castle News

May 31, 2013

Local track deadline, Ohio groundbreaking converge

Nancy Lowry
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Lawrence County could know Friday afternoon if a long-awaited harness racetrack/casino will open here.

Meanwhile, across the state line, Penn National Gaming broke ground Thursday in Austintown for a $125 million Hollywood at Mahoning Valley Race Course.

Lawrence County Commissioner Dan Vogler reported Thursday that nothing official was said at the Pennsylvania Harness Racing Commission meeting.

“But I was told by harness commission people that Endeka Entertainment is making progress. They sounded positive.”

Endeka has until Friday afternoon to meet conditions set by the racing commission to prove its suitability to operate a racetrack/casino.

Those included providing proof it has sufficient funds to construct a $170 million facility, provide a signed contract with a management company to operate it and a signed agreement with a horsemen’s association. Endeka also must submit an application to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board for a casino license.

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

However, across the Ohio line in Austintown, community members and officials turned out for the formal groundbreaking of a thoroughbred racetrack and video lottery terminal parlor.

Penn National will spend $125 million for the facility, which features a mile-long racetrack, grandstands, up to 1,500 video lottery terminals and several restaurants and bars.

Penn National Ohio spokesman Bob Tenenbaum said the company also will invest $50 million for the video lottery terminals, paid to the Ohio Lottery Commission, and $75 million to transfer the racetrack from the Columbus area.

He said Penn National is making an identical investment in Dayton where ground was broken Thursday for  a harness track and video lottery terminal facility. Both facilities will include simulcast theaters that allow patrons to watch and bet on horse races at other tracks.

Tenenbaum said they are expected to open next summer.

The video lottery terminals, similar to slot machines, will be the only casino furnishings in the Ohio tracks, at least for the time being, according to Tenenbaum.

Ohio voters agreed several years ago to allow four Las Vegas-like casinos in the state — in Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati.

Tenenbaum noted the casino in Columbus is eight months old and the one in Cincinnati opened only last month. “At this point, I believe the state will let the casinos settle.”

He said he is not aware of any discussion within the Ohio legislature or governor’s office to extend full casinos in racetracks.

(Relive the magic of New Castle’s WPIAL championship basketball season by purchasing a collectible DVD or special section that was given out at the team’s banquet. Both were produced by the New Castle News. For more details, CLICK HERE.)