By Marc Kovac
A state legislative panel will have a public hearing next week on a proposed racino in Austintown to accent the importance of the project to the Mahoning Valley economy.
Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, D-33rd, said the Senate’s Workforce and Economic Development Committee will gather at Austintown Township Hall at 10 a.m. Thursday for testimony from local officials and labor and business leaders about the potential consequences of delaying the Hollywood Slots at Mahoning Valley Race Course.
Penn National Gaming and the state racing commission are at odds over seating arrangements at the track. The latter has asked the company to add 600-plus indoor seats to allow patrons to view horse races.
But Penn National said it can’t accommodate the additional seating in its current design and will have to go back to the drawing board with architects to meet the commission’s request. The process, company officials say, will delay construction by four to six months or more and likely postpone a projected 2014 opening.
“It’s a battle right now, and I’m trying to bridge that gap and bring everyone together and talk about some sort of middle ground that can be found,” Schiavoni said, adding later, “The sooner we can get this done, the better.”
Schiavoni said next week’s committee hearing will “show the rest of the state the importance of this track to the Mahoning Valley” and pinpoint how a delay would hurt the local economy.
“I’m not trying to pick sides with Penn or the racing commission,” he said. “Some people are going as far as to blame the governor... which I think is a stretch.”
State Rep. Ronald Gerberry of Austintown, D-59th, agreed, saying Penn National and the racing commission have issues they are trying to address.
“I understand where the commission’s coming from,” he said. “Candidly, they’re doing their job. The commission’s job is to do what is in the best interest of horse racing. That’s their role... What Penn gaming is doing is trying to provide themselves with the best position to provide the necessary opportunity for horse racing and then also have [video lottery terminals]. That’s where they’re going to make their money.”
He added, “I surely think that they can get an agreement on the seating in writing and proceed with whatever they have to do. ... We don’t like the delay. It’s unfortunate, but is it going to get worked out? I’m optimistic that it can get worked out.”