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Austintown racino on hold

Published: Thu, March 28, 2013 @ 12:01 a.m.




Austintown Township officials expressed frustration at yet another state setback for construction of a Valley racino, saying requirements for more seating will set the process back by months.

Penn National Gaming officials said they will go back to the drawing board on plans for the new racino in the township, after the Ohio State Racing Commission declined to OK a relocation permit.

Instead, the commission told the company to nearly double the number of indoor seats at the facility.

The decision means a delay of four to six months or more in the construction of the Hollywood Mahoning Valley Race Course and the track’s anticipated opening date in 2014.

“It’s frustrating because we were ready to reward about $4 million worth of steel and foundation contracts ... and we’re not going to be able to move ahead with that, obviously, because we now have to go create new plans and come back to the commission at some point in the future to get permission,” Bob Tenenbaum, Penn National spokesman, said after the decision Wednesday.

He added, “In terms of commitment to these projects, we are still committed, but we are going to have to stop construction and regroup and go back to the drawing board and come up with some new plans. And that’s going to take months, and that’s going to delay the projects. It’s going to delay the jobs.”

Penn National has been working for months to gain racing commission approval to relocate two of its existing horse tracks to Austintown and Dayton from suburban Columbus and Toledo, respectively.

The company has agreed to pay the state a $75 million relocation fee and $50 million license fee for each project, plus pump $125 million into each new facility, with space for horse racing and thousands of state lottery-administered electronic slots.

Penn already owns a 195-acre parcel in Mahoning County, formerly zoned for a proposed Austintown industrial park, and has completed initial site work.

Company representatives have appeared before the state racing commission three times in as many weeks with hopes of gaining approval for the relocations. But commissioners have repeatedly voiced concern about the number of indoor seats with views of the racetrack.

“We continue to have real concerns about amenities for the horse racing fans,” said Commissioner Mark Munroe. “I’m from the Mahoning Valley. In fact, I lived in Austintown for a period of time. ... There’s a lot of buzz in the community about this racetrack. Nothing would disappoint me more than to find out that we’ve got fans who want to come and view horse racing and be disappointed because there aren’t sufficient seats....”

He added, “I understand that you’re on a tight time frame. Believe me, we want to see this project launched as soon as possible.”

Austintown Trustee Jim Davis and zoning inspector Darren Crivelli attended the meeting and spoke to Munroe after the 4-0 vote to require more seats. Davis said he felt the commission’s process was “dysfunctional” and told this to the commissioners.

“I expressed my displeasure with the commission and with what loopholes the process has,” Davis said. “This whole process has been a guessing game for Penn National. They’ve never been given a definitive number of seats or been told what’s required of them.”

The 650 indoor seats sought by the commission seem like an arbitrary number to Davis and Crivelli, who maintained that Penn National had done studies and come to the number of seats based on consumer activity at other racinos. “It’s in Penn National’s best interest to maintain that [original] architectural footprint,” Crivelli said.

Davis said he spoke privately to Munroe, telling him he hoped Munroe would be a “liaison for this project” and help lobby the commission to move the project along. The hope was that Munroe would discuss it with the board before its April 18 meeting.

“Penn National doesn’t want to have to add those seats,” Davis said. “What Mr. Munroe is acceptable to, what he said was, ‘Show me plans that show you could add 650 seats if you wanted to.’”

But Munroe said the unanimous vote of the commission requires the seats to be present in the plan. He said he told Davis that he would be glad to consider other ideas and strategies along with the seating changes.

“I’d be glad to look at anything, but [Penn National’s] plans as they currently stand are inadequate,” Munroe said.

In response to racing commission comments, Penn has changed configurations and enclosed an area to boost the number of indoor seats. According to projections released Wednesday, the new racino will have 518 indoor seats with views of the track, 242 indoor seats without track views and 650 outdoor bleacher seats at trackside.

But the indoor seating options still were not adequate for racing commission members Wednesday, noting that the track will offer live racing over 75 days annually, from Oct. 15-April 15.

“You’ve got to be a heck of a race fan or any kind of fan to sit outside in the bleachers in December, January, February ...,” said Commissioner William Koester. “No one’s going to sit in those seats.”

Instead of signing off on the relocation permit, the commission moved to require Penn to add hundreds of indoor seats to its plans.

“We’d like to see another 650 seats that are enclosed,” said commission Chairman Robert Schmitz. “How you come about that or how you do it is obviously a challenge for you.”

Steve Snyder, senior vice president of corporate development, said the seating is comparable to other Penn tracks and likely will meet demand.

“Penn National is the largest operator of pari-mutuel wagering horse tracks in the country,” Tenenbaum added. “What we proposed is based on our experience studying the market and what we felt the market would bear and what the demand would be in the local market.”

Snyder said no additional seats could be added under the existing design. He said the company has been “scurrying” to address racing commission concerns, but he criticized the “arbitrary seat count” members have set and reset in recent weeks.

“This process is broken,” he said, adding, “To honor your request, these projects, these jobs, this investment in Ohio will be delayed by six months or more.”

Contributor:Vindicator staff writer Susan Tebben


1mishmash(333 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

in TOTAL agreement with the comment post above.

This is just one more version on how DISCONNECTED the REPUBLICANS are with what actually happens on a day-to-day basis. They are too concerned with posturing and attempting to manipulate the circumstances, rather than, making progress easier.



KUDOS to DAVIS for fighting for The Valley to progress.FORWARD.

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2sc7422(23 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

Munroe is an idiot. He needs to go away. Some Democrat probably made him mad and now he is getting back at them. This Racino is a great thing for Austintown and a great thing for the Mahoning Valley. Unfortunately it may never happen now! GO AWAY MARK MUNROE!!!! No one cares for you!

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3NoBS(2826 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

Munroe should let the people whose business it is to design and build these things do their jobs. I'll guarantee they know what they're doing - this isn't their first facility ever (like it is for Munroe).

It appears Munroe is actively sabotaging this project. Why else would he be going against experts in their field? He's demanding the extra expense of hundreds and hundreds of additional seats that will never be used. Is he actively trying to get Penn National to throw up their hands in frustration and walk away?

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4lee(544 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

Just another example of Govt. interference. STOP IT!!!

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5exlonghorn(45 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

What in Munroe's background/resume' makes him an expert on such an issue?
I agree, I think he is trying to stick his finger in the eye of a political foe(s). Welcome to Mahoning County Penn National.. ,part of me would like to see them extend a middle finger and walk away.

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6busyman(239 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

We are experiencing the civil war between the Democrats and Republicans at the local level. If the republican party keeps this up trying to derail projects that brings jobs to an area that suffered for decades, than they will never regain their ability to get their canidate elected. I do not even think that Kacik likes this guy.

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7UNCOMMONSENSE(626 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

Well the Mahoning Valley has Munroe, a republican to thank for hindering the investment of millions in Austintown. Imagine that, a republican, yes a republican!

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8peacelover(839 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

I love reading the posts lambasting this Republican for "too much government interference on private business". LOL

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9Cubbies(37 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

The only time Mountaineer Race Track is packed is on the day of the West Virginia Derby. 650 more seats? Please... Apparently, somebody's palms have not been greased enough. When this happens, the track will be ok'd....

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10vinglass(295 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

Munroe is a Sonny Smith flunky, always was and always will be. Whatever his plan is, he is acting at the bidding of Sonny

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11mrblue(1175 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

Penn National will only take so much and then they will drop the project. This area will lose hundreds of jobs because of politics. So sad!

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12redeye1(5663 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

The way i see it , they are trying to move a racetrack license here , not a casino license. But you people think since its the Mahoning Valley they should be allow to do whatever. Well that is wrong! This company knew what was expected of them , but now they want to change the rules. I for one, am glad that Monroe is standing up to them. I hope PN says we quit! It would serve the people who wish to come here a notice. Play by the rules or don't even try to come.

Busyman This dump of an area has been a jackass party stronghold for so long that the republicans know they wouldn't win with all the union puppets voting how their unions tell them.

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13xytown(63 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

Penn National couldn't make any money in Columbus so they left. What makes everyone think it will make it in Austintown? Wait until Union-Labor Picketers demonstrate because the construction crews are not unionized and they put the big rat up in front. The limited jobs will be just above min. wage.

This thing is a loser before they break ground. Look at what gambling has done for the Valley over the last 20 years. Sad!!!

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14Lifes2Short(3882 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

More then 650 seats? Is this idiot serious? Be lucky if 50 people show up after all the hoopla of the Grand Opening is over. Talk about a fool.

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15walter_sobchak(2716 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

SInce I work for a company that has bid on this project, myquestion would be to Penn National and their architects: If you know that your plans must be reviewed and approved by the Ohio State racing Commission as a contingency for getting a relocation permit for the racetrack license, how do you get this far in your plan development before this question of indoor seating causes a 4 to 6 month delay? I mean, the steel and foundation packages are set to be awarded and just now this is an issue? When we saw the plans, we couldn't believe the lack of indoor seating. The commission voted it down unanimously. Unless someone can produce a document indicating the minimal quantity of indoor seating, this is very poor planning. The racing commission wants to have a nice racetrack and facility, as would seem obvious, they want more seats. Do your job and add more seats.

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16UNCOMMONSENSE(626 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

I would like to see the commissions factual statistics supporting their claim for additional seating. At a minimum it would include seating capacities and seating occupancy at comparable tracks.
As the representative from Penn National stated, they keep raising the bar every time we come back to the table. If I was Penn National, I would pick up my chips and head to New Castle, PA and build my track.

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17franklee(6 comments)posted 3 years, 3 months ago

Are you kidding me--seating?? That's the least of our town's or the commission's problems. Why is Penn National financing and managing a facility just a few miles away in PA. It will kill our racetrack. They should pick Austintown over that track or give the license to some other company!!

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18Iona(10 comments)posted 3 years, 3 months ago

I agree with the previous poster who said "Do your job and add the seats." The only reason the "casino" part is being allowed is because of the horsetrack. Why wouldn't a racing commissioner look out for the best interests of the racing? It's the same scenario with the Toledo/Dayton switch. And, it's not just seating--it's stalls and other racing related amenities that are being scrimped on.

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19INTEL(63 comments)posted 3 years, 3 months ago

This project will be just like the CAC.. (commucator aircraft corporation) plant that was built in Younstown Reginal Airport back in the 70's...there was not one single plane built in that location... this Mahoning Valley project will be the same way.. .it will be under massive demands and then the owners will walk away... just watch and see...but a handful of people will walk away like fat kats.... just wait and see...

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20Bigben(1996 comments)posted 3 years, 3 months ago

zz - You think racing is doing well in W Va? They are moving here because it failed at its former location so no these establishments do not always do well.

And no I wasn't opposed to the ball field in Trumbull county. Comparing a ball field to a gambling establishment is not apples to apples.

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21Iona(10 comments)posted 3 years, 3 months ago

Bigben--What W Va track do you mean when you say "You think racing is doing well in W Va? They are moving here because it failed at its former location"? Penn National wants to move Beulah Racetrack, which is in Ohio, to Austintown.

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22Bigben(1996 comments)posted 3 years, 3 months ago

Iona I don't think racing is doing well in W VA.

"Penn National wants to move Beulah Racetrack, which is in Ohio, to Austintown." -- That was point that is this type of racing isn't doing well not in W VA nor in Ohio. So why bring more of the same here?

zz3And "bigben" "in a "business mind" it is apples to apples you just can't grasp it. "First your wrong I was in favor of the ball field. A ball field and a gambling establishment are very different. I get they are both businesses however, I believed the ball field would be good for the community and would be profitable.See I will explain it in terms you maybe able to comprehend. A prostitute and a virgin are both women but they are very different.

A racino in which no one wants to see racing at on the other hand I do not believe will be good for the community and if it were successful it wouldn't need to leave its former location to come here. That is common sense which you seem to be lacking along with tact and manners.

As for this thing bringing lots of jobs your drinking the kool aid on that one. The construction work will be temporary and can you say for a fact that only locals will be doing all the temporary construction jobs ? How about the casino jobs?

Remember how fracking was going to be the next great employer in the area ? Then they told us no there just aren't enough folks that live here that aren't on drugs. See when an area acts like a prostitute they get treated like one when it acts like a virtuous women they are treated accordingly.

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23candystriper(575 comments)posted 3 years, 3 months ago

Expansion in Asia is what keeps Las Vegas going today. Penn's M Resort is struggling and the hotel CEO is planning to run for political office.
He seems to be afraid of online gaming...perhaps Penn is afraid of it as well.

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