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Politics stalling Austintown racino, county Dems say

Published: Fri, March 29, 2013 @ 12:09 a.m.

Munroe says seating is a legitimate issue

By Peter H. Milliken



The Mahoning County commissioners, all Democrats, lamented delays in the Austintown racino project due to a dispute over seating capacity, and said political considerations are interfering with the project.

However, Mark Munroe, county Republican Party chairman and a member of the Ohio State Racing Commission, said members of the horse-racing community are rightfully concerned about the seating issue and other aspects of Penn National’s proposed Hollywood Slots at Mahoning Valley Race Course.

The newest county commissioner, David Ditzler, who is a former Austintown trustee, was the most strident in his remarks at Thursday’s county commissioners meeting.

“It’s so sad that it’s become a political issue, and in my opinion, it’s Gov. [John] Kasich driving it down,” Ditzler said, adding that he thinks backers of the Cleveland Horseshoe Casino are exerting pressure to eliminate competition from the Austintown racino.

“Gov. Kasich is the driving force behind bringing racino operations to the [Mahoning] Valley” and to Ohio, Munroe said. “If it weren’t for the encouragement and support of the governor, these projects wouldn’t exist at all.”

Any suggestion that Cleveland casino interests are trying to kill the Austintown racino is “ridiculous,” Munroe said, when contacted after the county commissioners met.

“Shame on Mark Munroe if he has traded an opportunity to champion an effort to bring a great amount of jobs to our Valley for being a political hack,” Ditzler said.

“They [Penn National] presented this proposal more than six or eight months ago, and now we’re getting updated. Every week, they come in and they say, ‘250 seats isn’t enough, make it 500. Five hundred seats isn’t enough, let’s make it 650.’ How can a business come in and expect to do business within our Valley where the rules change weekly?” Ditzler asked.

“The [racing] commission had no idea that Penn National would come in with such a limited number of seats for racing fans,” Munroe said. “The commission’s interest is in advancing the sport of horse racing. Clearly, 200 seats for race fans would have been inadequate.

“What politics are we talking about? All the racing commission is trying to do is get a better facility for the Mahoning Valley.”

Horse owners, trainers and jockeys have expressed concerns about seating deficiencies, the lack of dormitories for grooms, inadequate barn and stall space for horses and inadequate facilities for jockeys at the proposed Austintown track, Munroe said. “We only have one opportunity to get this right,” Munroe added.

“Dave Ditzler and his fellow commissioners should join us in working with Penn National to get some of these serious track deficiencies corrected,” Munroe said.

“They’re stepping back to take a look at it now. Do they cut their losses? Do they reconfigure? Do they restructure? Do they wait six months?” Ditzler said, noting that $18 million worth of excavation already has occurred at the Austintown site.

“They’re the third-largest gaming company in the world. They are the largest with horse racing in the United States, so, if anyone knows their business, they know their business,” he said of Penn National and its officials.

“This is a prime example of what happens when politics enters into private business decisions. It’s unnecessarily driving up the cost of the project,” said county Commissioner Anthony Traficanti. A six-month delay in the project is significant, given the weather-related limits on winter construction activities in Northeast Ohio, he added.

Although Penn National has expressed concerns about delays due to the need to redesign the project, the company has never suggested that seating issues would affect the viability of the Austintown project, Munroe said.

“This is going to create thousands and thousands of jobs,” said county Commissioner Carol Rimedio-Righetti, adding that loss of the project would be “sad for the Valley.” Righetti urged local residents to write to the racing commission and call their state legislators concerning the Austintown racino.

“This is such an important project, not only for horse racing in Ohio, but for the Valley, and the [racing] commission is doing everything it can to move this project along, but at the same time, make it a better facility to benefit the Valley,” Munroe concluded.


1youngstownsteve(84 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

Did anyone ever think that Kasich's brown-nosing, do-nothing minion Munroe would put the Mahoning Valley first? Kasich only cares about what is best for him. I hope people wake up and bounce him out in the next election. He can take his trolls like Munroe with him.

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2polhack(129 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

Know anyone who has actually attended a horse race? The expense for participants and the apathy of most of the public have put the sport in steady decline for years. The seating requirements change on the whim of an appointed commission because our governor has political debts to pay in Cleveland where failing tracks need a broader market area just to fill some of their too many seats. Face it, this facility was launched for the profit the slots will make, the track just helps get the license.

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3UNCOMMONSENSE(628 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

Munroe is an ass! I hope he does not have plans for higher political office. Thanks to his politics, millions of investment dollars are be held up and hundreds of workers are idle.

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4NoBS(2845 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

My dog knows just as much about racinos as Munroe does - and beyond that, my dog knows enough to keep quiet when she doesn't know something.

Kasich has been petty and vindictive the entire time he's been governor, and this is just the latest example of his withholding everything from his "enemies."

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5sue(179 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

It is ironic that a Republican, supposedly pro business governor, is telling a company how to run its business. What gives?

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6vinglass(295 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

Munroe is just doing the bidding of his puppetmasters, Smith & Zoldan

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7redeye1(5683 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

You posters make me laugh, the first thing out your mouths is to blame someone else for their problems. Just maybe this company knew going in, it had to provide so many seats and now it doesn't want to . Did you ever think of that. But just like your great leader OBAMMY, its easier to blame everyone else , but the people who screwed up There was an article in yesterdays Pgh paper that horse race betting is up over 12% last year. Just maybe horse racing is making some kind of comeback. Who knows?

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8franklee(6 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

Munroe may be secretly protecting us. Maybe Penn Natonal plans to go to PA immediately after getting approval in Ohio. Why isn't one persn talking about Penn National. If they are so committed to us in Austintown why are they fooling around with a competing track twelve miles away in PA. None of the PA track money benefits us here. It doesn't help our horse people either. Munroe should ask them which town they want to have a track and casino in. Seating isn't the big problem. This is

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9commyliberal(94 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

This track is going to happen and the big reason is LOCATION! It is situated on a major national corridor. People will stop here & gamble. It is an opportunity for travelers to stop in and gamble on their way to their final destination. The PA track is not a good location & I don't see it being as viable as Austintown. Cleveland tracks have their own draw.

The casinos bring larger purses to the races & give more incentive to the racing industry. Casinos are in operation all year round while the racing industry has a season. The jobs are more stable for the casino workers.

I don't gamble & I don't favor the racing industry but I think the facility is a good fit for the area. We have plenty of locals who travel to other areas out of state to gamble, let them keep their money here in the area.

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10franklee(6 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

I agree with you that it is good for us here. We do have the best location. But it won't survive if the same operator is twelve miles away in PA running an identical track and casino. Penn National is saying they are paying for and managing the competing track 12 miles away in PA. DUH, doesn't work. Are they for us or for PA? Simple question. Or are they going to use it as a threat to us here?

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11Bigben(1996 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

I thought the idea was a bad from the start. Gambling is saturated in the area. They are moving here because they didn't make it where they were at before .

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12Bigben(1996 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

As for jobs wasn't that the mantra of the frackers? Come on folks wake up.

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13Iona(10 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

The racing commissioners are entrusted with looking out for the best interests of racing, and I believe they are doing that, not following a hidden political agenda. I've read the meeting minutes online. Penn National's original proposal was for a total number of 204 seats. Wouldn't a gaming company that was truly interested in racing believe itself capable of promoting enough interest to fill more than 204 seats? Maybe the Ohio State Racing Commission has seen what has happened in other states such as West Virginia where the racetracks, although they were the pathway to getting a casino, were not nourished or promoted. Mountaineer and Wheeling used to have crossover patrons who enjoyed both racing and slots. Mountaineer's clubhouse and grandstand mezzanine level used to be buzzing with people. At Wheeling you could sit at a machine and watch a live race. Then both tracks chose to physically separate the slots from the live racing, putting in most cases a great distance between the two. When attendance declines at the track (because let's face it slots are more addictive), management is able to justify not improving trackside.

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