By Marc Kovac
Gov. John Kasich has signed an executive order allowing horse- racing tracks to begin applying for licenses to offer video slot machines on their premises.
But officials with companies wanting to build tracks in the Mahoning Valley say much more is needed before they can open here.
The move places the state-controlled video lottery terminals on a fast track and means owners will not have to wait months while the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review completes its deliberations on related rules.
“The implementation of [VLTs] at the earliest opportunity will increase revenues to the Lottery Profits Education Fund, spur economic development and generate employment and resultant revenue to state and local governments,” according to the order, signed by Kasich on Friday and released to the public Monday.
But Kasich’s executive order likely does not mean racetracks will have VLTs up and running before the end of the year.
Marie Kilbane, spokeswoman for the lottery commission, said lottery officials don’t expect to have systems in place to accommodate racetrack slots until late January.
“You could possibly see something at a track or two in the first or second quarter of the year, but it really depends on the tracks’ individual circumstances,” she said.
Kasich supports video slots as part of a larger casino plan in the state that included the possible relocation of current horse tracks in Toledo and Columbus, owned by Penn National Gaming, to sites in the Dayton area and Austintown.
Penn National has outlined plans to pay $400 million to relocate the two tracks, creating about 2,000 construction jobs, 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.
“It’s another step in the process,” said Bob Tenenbaum, a Penn National spokesman.
“We’re obviously interested in what the [state] racing commission does in setting up the procedure to relocate tracks. That is necessary for us to move.”
The state racing commission has not yet signed off on the relocation plans.
Also, the Mahoning Valley Development Group is proposing a $300 million horse racetrack with slots in North Jackson.
“There are still so many things in motion,” said Rick Lertzman, the company’s chairman. “We’re watching very carefully to see how this plays out. There are still a lot of questions and decisions to be made.”
In September, the state Controlling Board OK’d a contract between the lottery commission and gaming company Intralot Inc. to manage VLTs at horse tracks, but racetrack owners still have to obtain licenses from the commission to offer video slots.
Lottery officials have outlined the licensing process, plus additional rules covering employees at tracks with VLTs, licensing fees and facility requirements.
The Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review is reviewing those rules, but Kasich’s executive order effectively implements them on an emergency basis for the next 90 days.
Contributor: Vindicator politics writer David Skolnick