Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course will open in six days.
Mike Galle, general manager, anticipates the grand opening will draw patrons from a 75-mile radius — ranging from Cleveland to Pittsburgh — to the $250 million development. The Austintown, Ohio, facility is on 186 acres about 30 miles from New Castle.
It is operated by Penn National Gaming, which owns and runs more than 20 horseracing and casino gaming locations through the United States and Canada.
The 100,000-square-foot Austintown facility is off Interstate 80 at Route 46, where construction began May 30.
Hesitant to estimate his opening day crowd, Galle said he anticipates annual attendance of one million.
Doors are expected to open at noon Wednesday, following a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10:30 a.m. The facility will be open around the clock 365 days a year.
Although live racing will not begin until Nov. 24, a simulcast lounge featuring horseraces from around the country will be available from opening day.
A glimpse of what’s to come was offered Wednesday to area media.
“Our patrons can expect to see the glitz and glamour of old Hollywood,” Galle said. He added more than 400 full- and part-time employees have been hired, trained and licensed. Galle said 90 percent of the employees are local residents.
The gaming floor, decorated in “Hollywood art deco-style, circa 1935,” is a blur of color and flashing lights from the 850 video lottery terminals to a stage that will feature local bands on Friday and Saturday nights to projectors showing everything from movie trailers to marketing messages and football games on white glass walls.
The terminals are similar to slot machines and will accept bets from a penny to $100, Galle said, adding more may be installed later.
The facility features smoking decks on both levels because no smoking is permitted inside the building.
Galle noted the gaming and racing areas are separate. He said patrons must be 21 or older to go onto the gaming floor, but those 18 and older may place bets on horses. He added children of any age may enter the building to dine or see the races, provided they are accompanied by an adult.
Although the casino will open Wednesday, thoroughbred racing will not start until Nov. 24.
Mark Munroe, vice president of the Ohio State Racing Commission, Wednesday presented Galle with the license that allows horse racing in the Mahoning Valley.
The Ohio Lottery Commission license for the terminals is expected to be presented a few days before the opening.
“We will have an abbreviated 21-day racing season this year,” Munroe said. However, starting next year, 100 days of horse racing annually are expected. He said the split season will run from January through April and October through December.
Final touches are continuing on the mile-long track. Munroe noted the all-weather track, topped with sand from local quarries, is similar to those at West Virginia’s Mountaineer Park and Thistledown in Cleveland.
He also pointed out the last track in Ohio was built about 20 years ago, but Penn National built two tracks — the thoroughbred track in Austintown and a harness racetrack in Dayton — in the past 15 months.
The Dayton facility opened Aug. 28.
There will be racing four days a week — Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, Munroe said, adding they will start at 12:45 p.m. and conclude at 4 p.m., with about eight races per day.
The track can accommodate up to nine horses per race, Munroe said. The Ohio commission “will not close the border” with regard to horses, he continued, adding he expects to see animals from Pennsylvania, Michigan, West Virginia and Kentucky competing at the facility.
The barns, which remain under construction, will be able to accommodate 988 horses, he said.
A 150-seat food court on the ground floor will offer 24-hour service including sandwiches, coffee and pastries, pizza and pasta. The upper level offers more formal dining from 11 a.m. until midnight daily. In addition, self-serve soft drink stations are available to patrons.
The upper level grandstands offer a view of the thoroughbred racetrack.
The facility has 1,600 parking spaces, Galle said, adding he plans to establish a shuttle bus system to the eight local hotels and a truck stop that is within about five blocks of the facility.
Local project ‘still viable’
Austintown, Ohio’s track and casino is set to open Wednesday, but Lawrence County’s project remains viable, one official said.
Bob Tennenbaum, spokesman for Penn National, which owns Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course in Ohio, said he understands details of financing for the local project remain to be finalized.
“But the project is still valid.”
Penn National, which owns and operates more than 20 horseracing and casino gaming locations in the United States and Canada, is a partner with Endeka Entertainment in the racetrack and casino proposed for Mahoning Township.
Tenenbaum said opening the facility in Austintown will not necessarily negate the Lawrence County project.
“There are a lot of benefits to two projects, including promotions, purchasing, any number of things,” he said.
The Lawrence County project, initiated in June 2003, remains before the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.
Casino offers early sign-ups
Would-be patrons of the new casino in Austintown can beat the rush by signing up early for a player’s card.
Doors of the Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course are expected to open at noon Wednesday, following a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10:30 a.m.
Registration for complimentary Marquee Rewards Players Cards will take place on three days prior to the opening.
Marketing director Scott Frost said sign-ups will be noon to 6 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday and 2 to 8 p.m. Tuesday on the lower level of the racing area.
Cardholders receive rewards and benefits from participating at Hollywood Gaming and other Penn National properties, according to Frost. Patrons can earn points redeemable for free play, dining, shopping and hotel stays and receive officers to special events and promotions.
The Austintown facility also will be a pilot electronic market project for Penn National Gaming.
Frost said he is developing a fully digital marketing format using patrons’ smart phones, personal computers and tablets rather than the U.S. mail to notify them of promotions, coupons and other events.
“We believe this test project will result in quicker response to our patrons.”
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