By Marc Kovac
Penn National Gaming and a group representing racehorse owners and trainers have reached an informal agreement to increase the number of stalls at a new racino in Austintown, potentially paving the way for approval of the company’s racing permits for the new year.
“Progress is being made,” Ohio Racing Commission Chairman Robert Schmitz said during the panel’s regular business meeting near the Statehouse on Thursday, where representatives from Penn and the Ohio Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association updated members on the negotiations.
Penn National initially planned to construct 10 barns, each containing 76 stalls, at its Austintown racino, but commission members said that wasn’t enough to accommodate horses at the site. The new facility, they said, should have closer to 1,000 stalls, comparable to what other tracks in the state have in place.
“When you sit down and do the math, when you look at the number of race days, the number of horses in a race ... when you start doing that math, you quickly see that you need upward of 1,000 or more horses a month to properly run horse racing at a thoroughbred track,” said commission member Mark Munroe, chairman of the Mahoning County Republican Party.
He added, “The more horses that you’ve got stabled at a facil-ity, the more jobs there are. It takes groomsmen, trainers. It’s more people going to restaurants. There’s more people staying overnight in hotels. This is a good thing for Austintown.”
Schmitz had warned last month that the commission would not act on Penn’s permit applications for 2014 racing dates if more stalls were not added to the Austintown plans. Without the permit, the company could not offer video lottery terminals at the facility.
Bob Tenenbaum, Penn spokesman, said the gaming company and the horsemen’s group have reached a nonbinding agreement to increase the number of barns at the racino to 13, bumping the number of stalls to 988.
The two sides next must finalize a formal contract.
“Our goal is to have that done by the next meeting,” he said.
Schmitz said once the contract between Penn and the horsemen’s group is signed, the commission will act on the Austintown racing dates for 2014. The commission signed off Thursday on racing dates for Penn’s Beulah Park in suburban Columbus.
“All that’s left is to finalize the paperwork, and I think we’re in good shape,” Munroe said.
Penn has already begun construction of the Austintown facility, with plans for video slots gaming to open for business in late summer or early fall.
The company has submitted an application to offer live racing at the site starting in November.
Austintown Township Trustee Jim Davis said he is happy to see an agreement reached.
“Any progress that we can make with this racetrack to get to the ultimate goal of opening this track is good news,” Davis said.