The Lawrence County commissioners aren’t sure what to think about claims a racetrack/resort is planned for Ohio’s Mahoning Valley.

But they don’t think it will hurt Lawrence County’s chances to secure a harness racetrack/casino in Mahoning Township.

The announcement by partners Rick Lertzman and Dr. Bradford Pressman took everyone by surprise, the commissioners said at their meeting yesterday.

“They don’t have permits, they don’t have a license,” Commissioner Steve Craig noted, adding, “There is no casino license available for them.

“I believe this is a red herring thrown into the process.”

When Ohio voters approved gaming in 2009, Craig noted, the law limited casinos to Toledo, Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland.

He added the commissioners are monitoring the situation, “but I don’t feel this is a credible threat” to the local proposal.

“I would be skeptical of any statement made,” Craig said. “It’s one thing to say they have the money, it’s another to show me the money.”

He added American Harness — owners of the local property and plans — “also appears to have financing in place.”

Commissioner Rick DeBlasio noted the proposed Ohio complex will be about 90 minutes away from the $600 million facility planned for Cleveland. “There will be a lot of pressure, politics and obstacles for (the Youngstown project) to overcome.”

Craig added if that project becomes a “credible threat” the commissioners will meet with Ohio’s Mahoning, Columbiana and Trumbull county commissioners, who are working together on the Valley View Downs project, and determine a strategy.

“I don’t expect much will come of this, but we could be surprised.”

An official for the Ohio State Racing Commission confirmed there has been communication between the state agency and the Mahoning Valley Downs developers.

According to John Izzo, commission deputy director, talks began in July 2009. At the time, no location for the proposed track was included, and even now, Izzo said, few specifics have been shared.

Acknowledging it has been years since any organization has pursued a new track license in Ohio, Izzo indicated it is unclear what information the commission may want to see from the developers. He said details about possible financial backers is one likely request.

Izzo noted the commission must follow Ohio law pertaining to the establishment of tracks where wagering takes place. One rule requires the developers to obtain signed petitions from the residents of the township where a track is located. The petitions must include the signatures of 51 percent of the qualified township voters who participated in the previous gubernatorial election.

Izzo said the racing commission has no timetable for acting on any request.

The Lawrence County commissioners said they all plan to attend the harness racing commission meeting tomorrow in Hershey, “to emphasize ... the strong support the community has for the project.”

Commissioner Dan Vogler said he had asked last week if a public hearing would be conducted for the license because an application has been made.

“We were told no. This is not a new license and there are not several applicants. This is an existing license — earmarked for this location — that will be transferred.”

Craig said the license can’t be transferred until Centaur emerges from bankruptcy in the spring.

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