By Marc Kovac
Gov. John Kasich signed an executive order and the Ohio Racing Commission adopted emergency rules Thursday allowing current horse-racing tracks in the state to apply to relocate to other sites.
Robert Schmitz, commission chairman, said applications are available for tracks that are interested, though a fee has not yet been set.
He said he was not aware of any track that was ready to file the paperwork, however. And he said a threatened lawsuit against state-controlled video lottery terminals at the horse tracks could stall any relocation efforts.
The conservative American Policy Roundtable has planned a morning press conference to announce its intentions to file litigation against Kasich and the lottery and casino commissions.
“If there’s a lawsuit, everything comes to a halt,” Schmitz said. “That’s my understanding.”
Penn National spokesmen said previously the company was interested in relocating Raceway Park in Toledo to the Centrepointe Development in Austintown.
“We still have a long way to go, but it’s great news any time we see a decision that puts us more in favor of getting that track,” said Austintown Trustee Jim Davis.
The commission decision Thursday came a few days after the Ohio Lottery Commission OK’d comparable rules aimed at allowing video slots at horse tracks.
Both moves allow racetrack owners to begin applying to operate VLTs on their premises, though none is expected to be up and running until sometime next year.
Former Gov. Ted Strickland initially proposed allowing video slots at horse-racing tracks as a means of filling a hole in the state budget, but those plans were put on hold after gambling opponents filed suit.
Kasich subsequently offered his support for video slots as part of a larger casino plan that included the possible relocation of existing horse tracks owned by Penn National Gaming in Toledo and Columbus to sites near Youngstown and Dayton.
The rules adopted by the racing commission apply to all seven of the current horse tracks. They have until October 2013 to submit applications to the commission to relocate.
The rules do not cover other tracks, including one proposed by another developer in the Mahoning Valley.
“To my knowledge, I have had no conversations with anybody in that group seeking a de novo license for a permit for a racetrack,” Schmitz said. “There has been general discussion from a number of folks with potential locations, but as to a specific location in the Mahoning Valley, all I know is what I read in the paper.”
State Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Canfield, D-33rd, said he will continue to be a proponent of bringing a track to the Mahoning Valley.
“Since this idea even started I’ve been trying to do everything possible to make sure Youngstown and the Valley doesn’t get left out of the equation,” he said. “I’m glad the governor is moving quickly.”
Schiavoni said he’s cautiously optimistic, but waiting can be frustrating.
“Now it’s coming down to, I believe, negotiations between the governor’s office and [the tracks] to figure out how much it’s going to cost to do that relocation,” he said. “Everything is in place, now they just have to figure out that fee.”
Penn 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.
Bob Tenenbaum, a spokesman for Penn, said the company is awaiting details of the application rules, including the fee that will be set by racing commission.
“We’re still totally committed ...,” he said. “We’re very eager for the process to continue to move forward. ... Once all of these details are worked out, including the fees, our plan is to move forward as rapidly as possible.”
Davis said he’s not surprised by the governor’s decision, and the board remains optimistic that the relocation of a racetrack owned by Penn National will eventually come to fruition.
“We’re hopeful that we can get this thing accomplished before anyone else does,” Davis said.
Contributor: Elise Franco, Vindicator staff writer.