Plans for two Valley racetracks gain ground

By David Skolnick


“Very informative” is how the Ohio State Racing Commission’s executive director described his first meeting with developers of a proposed $300 million complex in the Mahoning Valley that would include a horse racetrack, resort and possibly a casino.

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Dr. Bradford Pressman

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The Vindicator ( Youngstown)

Rick Lertzman

“It went well,” said Tom Fries Jr., the commission’s director, when asked about Thursday’s meeting with the heads of the Mahoning Valley Development Group. “They laid out their vision for their entertainment facility that would include thoroughbred” racing.

Meanwhile, efforts in the General Assembly to legalize slots at horse racetracks in the state have gained some momentum. That change in state law is critical to a second proposal from another developer to build a racetrack in Austintown.

Thursday’s commission meeting was the first face-to-face get-together among Fries and other commission officials — Commission Chairman William Koester and Commissioner Ted Brown — with MVDG leaders Rick Lertzman and Bradford Pressman, and their attorney, Pat Quinn.

The meeting lasted about 90 minutes, Pressman said.

“I thought it went very, very well,” he said. “They’re receptive of our entire concept.”

Next, the group must fill out an application to operate a horse racetrack with parimutuel betting. That should be done in the next two weeks, Pressman said.

The application would include information about the proposed site of the track, who has at least 5 percent interest in the company, the project’s financing as well as the look of the track, the clubhouse and security, Fries said.

“It’s a long process for anyone” to have a new track, Fries said.

Pressman said, “We feel very confident it’s a proposal the Ohio Racing Commission would embrace.”

Though the group wants the proposed track, to be called Mahoning Valley Downs, to have slot machines, Pressman said, not having them isn’t a deal-breaker.

Meanwhile, Penn National Gaming Inc. is interested in relocating Raceway Park, its harness track in Toledo, to the Centerpointe business park in Austintown if slot machines are legalized at the state’s seven racetracks. Penn National also wants to move its thoroughbred track near Columbus to the Dayton area if slots are legalized.

Penn National wants to spend $400 million to build the two new racetracks.

State Rep. Ronald V. Gerberry of Austintown, D-59th, said Thursday he recently had a productive meeting with House Speaker Pro Tempore Louis Blessing Jr. of Cincinnati, R-29th, the No. 2 Republican in the House, about co-sponsoring a bill to legalize slot machines at the racetracks.

Once the Ohio Legislative Service Commission drafts the bill, to be done in about a week or two, Gerberry said he and Blessing plan to introduce the bill and have it sent to the House Local Government Committee. State Rep. Terry Blair of Washington Township, R-38th, chairs that committee and supports the proposal, Gerberry said. Blair’s district is near the proposed location of the proposed Dayton-area track.

All House members in the Mahoning Valley and the Dayton area would be asked to cosponsor the bill, Gerberry said.

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