Bill favoring Valley racino goes to Kasich

By Marc Kovac


A new Youngstown-area horse-racing track and slots parlor moved a few steps closer to fruition Tuesday.

The Ohio Senate approved a streamlined process for the Ohio State Racing Commission to consider the proposal.

Lawmakers also amended House Bill 277 to include a number of provisions from agreements between Gov. John Kasich’s administration and the operators of four new Ohio casinos, clarifying language in state law concerning how those gaming facilities will be taxed.

The final Senate vote was 27-6, and the Ohio House later concurred on amendments, sending the bill to Kasich for his signature.

The legislation was prompted by proposals from Penn National Gaming Inc. to relocate two horse racetracks to other Ohio cities — Raceway Park in Toledo to a 186-acre site in Austintown and Beulah Park in Columbus to a site north of Dayton.

House Bill 277 establishes the process for Penn and other track owners to approach the racing commission to request racetrack relocations. Under the legislation, the commission would give preferential treatment to applications from tracks wanting to move to areas without existing racetracks or casinos.

The legislation does not name specific racetracks and does not give final approval for the proposed relocations in Austintown or the Dayton area; the racing commission would have the final say on whether to allow the moves.

“Lawmakers won’t decide this; the [racing] commission will make that determination based on the factors that come before them,” said Sen. Keith Faber, a Republican from Celina.

Penn has cited the proximity of its existing racetracks to casinos it is building in Columbus and Toledo as reason for moving them to other communities, plus the potential to draw customers from neighboring states.

The company has outlined plans to pay $400 million to relocate the tracks, creating about 2,000 construction jobs to complete the relocation, about 1,500 full-time positions at each site employed by the tracks or support businesses, and more than $200 million in increased state gaming tax revenues.

The moves are contingent on the state lottery’s allowing video lottery terminals — essentially state-run slot machines — at the horse tracks. House Bill 277 doesn’t authorize VLTs; the state lottery will have to move forward with rules for video slots.

“We’re not really dealing with VLTs necessarily in this bill,” Faber said. “We’re dealing with locations and some other general items.”

He added that amendments to the bill added by the Senate included language concerning how the new gaming facilities will be taxed. Under the bill, casinos would have to pay the state’s commercial activity tax based on the difference between what is wagered and what is paid out to patrons in winnings.

That would be a change from existing CAT law, which bases taxes on gross receipts — in the case of casinos, what is wagered. A provision that was eventually removed from the state budget would have required casinos to pay the CAT based on the latter.

“It clarifies the law with regard to casinos to define the gross casino receipts for CAT purposes as the casino receipts less payouts,” Faber said. “Essentially, it harmonizes the CAT language with the constitutional amendment language.”

A few lawmakers opposed the legislation, including Sen. Mike Skindell from Cleveland, who said during the committee process that the casino amendments moved too quickly without time for public review and comment.

Sen. Joe Schiavoni, a Democrat from Canfield, supported the bill, saying the jobs that would result from the racetrack move were important to his district.

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