Big changes are riding in to Lawrence County. With word the community will host a harness racing track — and the slot machine casino that will almost certainly accompany it — major development will now be in the works. There will be substantial new construction and permanent jobs from the track and slots facilities. A strange journey brought Lawrence County to this point. A group of local investors, led by businessman Carmen Shick and his family, waged a years-long campaign that saw plenty of ups and downs. Their proposal, called Bedford Downs, became locked in a struggle with a Beaver County competitor — Valley View Downs, headed by Indiana-based Centaur Inc. A 2005 decision by the Pennsylvania Harness Racing Commission, that rejected both track projects, led to an extended court battle. And the outcome earlier this year put both track proposals back at square one, seemingly destined to slug it out again. But something was happening behind the scenes. The two competing entities were negotiating to join forces. And that’s precisely what they did, with Centaur receiving the license, but agreeing to purchase the Lawrence County property and build the track here. In the end, this represents a great deal for Lawrence County. Although such development produces a ripple effect, the biggest impact will be felt in this community. And one of the key economic advantages of hosting a casino is the money that flows from it to local government. Up to 2 percent of the slots proceeds will be available to Lawrence County and a similar amount for Mahoning Township. Considering its current makeup as a largely rural community, Mahoning Township can expect substantial changes. Although it will be several years before the slots are up and running, it’s not too early for local officials to develop a structured system for deciding what to do with this money. The funds will be controlled by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, which will presumably have veto power over their use. So solid planning for the money will be crucial. Meanwhile, we should not lose sight of the contributions of the Shick family in this project. Although their property and interests in the horse track and slots casino were sold to Centaur (for a total of $75 million), the Shicks are by no means fading into the background. The family will retain control of 300 acres of nearby land, where various development projects — including a water park, housing and hotels — are on the agenda. All of this is difficult to envision or take in at the moment. But in the coming few years, the changes will be startling. And what happens after that? We can’t say for sure, but it will be interesting to watch.

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