By DAVID SKOLNICK
The owner of a Toledo horse racetrack will address the Ohio State Racing Commission next Thursday about relocating the facility to the Mahoning Valley.
State Rep. Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown, D-60th, and state Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Canfield, D-33rd, told The Vindicator on Wednesday that Penn National Gaming Inc., which owns Raceway Park in Toledo, will discuss the move with the commission.
The company wants to build the racetrack on the vacant Centerpointe location in Austintown, off state Route 46 just south of Interstate 80, Hagan and Schiavoni said.
Hagan and Schiavoni said they and other Valley-area state legislators were invited by Penn National to next week’s racing-commission meeting.
“I’m excited about the prospect of bringing 1,000 to 1,500 jobs and millions of dollars in investments to the Mahoning Valley,” Schiavoni said.
He added that Penn
National will “make this announcement next week and explain the project. This would be great for this area.”
Penn National would invest between $200 million and $250 million for this racetrack, Hagan said.
“This is no save-all, cure-all for the area, but it’s a great opportunity, and I’m very positive about it,” he said. “We’ll support it as much as we can.”
Penn National has been discussing the potential move for the past eight to 12 months with legislators, Hagan and Schiavoni said.
The most recent meeting was Monday.
Penn National officials met privately that day with local elected officeholders and representatives of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber to discuss relocating a track to Mahoning County.
Bob Tenenbaum, Penn National’s spokesman, declined to comment Wednesday.
“We’ve been consistent in not discussing the potential movement until we’re ready to make an announcement,” he said.
When asked when that announcement would be made, Tenenbaum said, “We’ll be ready in the near future.”
Penn National also owns Beulah Park, a thoroughbred racetrack in Grove City, near Columbus.
With Penn National building Las Vegas-style casinos near both facilities, the company is looking to move Raceway, a harness track, and Beulah, Tenenbaum has said.
The two Penn National tracks, as well as the five other horse tracks in Ohio, have seen their revenue steadily decline.
Tom Fries Jr., the racing commission’s executive director, said Penn National’s request to move is not on the agency’s agenda for next week.
“But that’s not to say they won’t bring that up under ‘new business,’” he said. “They’ve told us they were looking at the possibility” of moving.
“Penn told me they are looking at the economic viability, and they haven’t made any decisions,” Fries said. “The rest I read in The [Columbus] Dispatch and The Vindicator.”
To move from Toledo to this area, Penn National needs to apply to the commission to transfer the license.
The company also needs to obtain signatures from at least 51 percent of the total number of voters in the last general election from the township in which the racetrack would be located, Fries said.
In that election, 13,574 Austintown residents voted, according to the Mahoning County Board of Elections. That means Penn National would need 6,923 signatures from Austintown adults.
The move also would need to be approved by county commissioners, Fries said.
Austintown Trustee David Ditzler said Penn National has been eyeing the Centerpointe location for months, adding that spot is “on the top of their list.”
But he remains cautiously optimistic.
“We have a long, long road ahead with respect to getting the racing commission to approve the license move to the Valley,” Ditzler said.
A racetrack hasn’t relocated in Ohio in about 50 years, he said.
Meanwhile, officials with the racing commission will meet Feb. 16 with the Mahoning Valley Development Group, a separate group also looking to bring horse racing to Mahoning County.
“The only thing we’ve heard is they want to meet,” Fries said.
That company is proposing a $300 million complex in the Valley on as much as 700 acres that would include a thoroughbred horse racetrack, resort and possibly a casino with slot machines.
The company announced their plans in mid-January.
Currently, slot machines are illegal in Ohio with voters rejecting it several times. But Ohioans voted in 2009 in favor of opening four Las Vegas-style casinos in Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Toledo.
There is talk of Gov. John Kasich’s considering a plan to include slot machines at the state’s racetracks. But when asked about it last week, Kasich declined to comment.
Legalizing slot machines would make a racetrack in Mahoning County more viable, Schiavoni said.