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Bill puts Austintown racino on fast track

By David Skolnick

Thursday, June 23, 2011

By David Skolnick


A bill to be considered today by the Ohio House would make it a lot easier for a horse racetrack with video slot machines to relocate, the legislation’s co-sponsor says.

The bill is designed to relocate two horse-racing tracks owned by Penn National Gaming Inc. and have video lottery terminals at the new facilities, including one in Austintown, said state Rep. Ronald V. Gerberry, who is co-sponsoring the legislation with House Speaker Pro Tempore Louis Blessing Jr. of Cincinnati, R-29th.

The relocations proposed by Penn National are from Raceway Park in Toledo to a $200 million facility to be built in Austintown at the vacant 186-acre Centerpointe business park, and from Beulah Park in Grove City, near Columbus, to the Dayton area.

Penn National will relocate the tracks only if the state legalizes VLTs at Ohio’s seven horse racetracks. Gov. John Kasich and the state Legislature are taking the steps to do just that.

The House State Government and Elections Committee, of which Gerberry is the ranking minority member, approved the legislation Wednesday.

Gerberry of Austintown, D-59th, said the full House will consider the bill today, and it will be up for a vote in the state Senate as early as next week.

“The bill streamlines the process of transferring licenses and applying for VLTs,” Gerberry said. “It’s very significant because the transfer of a license is very convoluted. This simplifies the process.”

The Ohio State Racing Commission still has the final say on a track relocation, something that hasn’t happened in about 50 years.

Under current law, a track owner wanting to relocate needs the signatures of 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.

The Gerberry-Blessing bill would no longer require that provision.

Also, the bill requires the commission to “give preference to transfer proposals involving moves to locations in which neither horse-racing meetings nor casino gaming have been authorized before July 1.”

Gerberry said that provision is designed specifically for the relocation to Austintown.

“This is big for us,” he said of the bill. “We’re still moving the ball down the field, but we’re very hopeful.”

Kasich recently told The Vindicator that he wanted the transfer of gaming licenses to be easier to help move tracks to the Mahoning Valley and the Dayton area.

“It’s our intention to have a streamlined process,” he said.

Owners of two of the state’s seven racetracks have expressed objections to the relocations.