By Susan Tebben
The Ohio Racing Commission has questions about seating and stable space for Penn National Gaming Inc.
The commission’s monthly meeting is Tuesday morning in Columbus, and an Austintown Township trustee has been asked to speak about the effect of the new racino.
“My job as township trustee is to ensure the growth of the township,” said Trustee Jim Davis. “The last thing we want to do is let this slip through our fingers.”
Bob Tenenbaum, spokesman in Columbus for Penn National, declined to comment on the meeting but said the company was “prepared to address those questions.”
Tenenbaum said he did not anticipate any delays in the project as a result. It hasn’t been determined whether the commission will vote Tuesday on the permits that would allow the racino to begin construction.
Davis was asked by Penn National representative Eric Schippers to speak at the meeting on “the importance of these economic development projects in your communities and the jobs that will be created and positive ripple effect on the other area businesses ...” according to an email sent to Davis.
The commission also will be asking about issues involving the Hollywood Slots at Mahoning Valley race course, including a low number of seats compared with the Beulah Park racetrack near Columbus, from which Penn National is attempting to transfer the gaming license to Austintown.
There would be 395 seats available for patrons to watch the live racing on the new track. Davis said the commission is arguing that there would be too few seats, and is questioning whether a sufficient number of horse stalls will be available.
But with the racing season currently scheduled for October through May, Davis said it is arguable that more outdoor seating will be needed. From other racetracks he’s attended, the seats never have been filled to capacity.
“I don’t agree with adding a gratuitous amount of seats,” Davis said. “Racing is the main reason for this track but the VLT [video lottery terminals] are going to be the big draw, we believe.”
With two pending proposals from hotels to start construction in the area and multiple businesses turning up around the township that would be affected by the revenue the tourists could bring in, the township is ready to grow with the racino, Davis said.
The hotels have presented plans to the township zoning department and potentially could be built by this summer, according to Davis.
“There is land set aside for growth within the racino property,” Davis said, comparing the development with that of the YMCA in Boardman. “They didn’t build four pools at first; they waited to see what they would need and started with one pool. There is room on the racino facility to grow if needed.”