The Ohio Racing Commission today will once again meet to discuss — and possibly vote on — Penn National Gaming’s proposal for a racino in Austintown.
“Any more, this is just another Wednesday in Columbus for us,” said Austintown Township Trustee Jim Davis, referring to his many trips to the commission meetings, along with Zoning Inspector Darren Crivelli.
They head back to today’s meeting with bigger hopes for an end to all of the debate.
The commission has sent Penn National away at previous meetings, saying the design for the Hollywood Slots at Mahoning Valley Race Course needed more seats for spectators and more stable space than originally was planned.
Penn National argued that market research done by the company had shown that the number of seats it had allotted would be more effective.
At the last commission meeting, April 24, Penn National officials said they were willing to increase the amount of indoor seats with track views to more than 1,000 seats if patron demand merited it.
The commission said it would take the matter under advisement and meet again to potentially vote.
“After seeing last week, I’m finally becoming optimistic that we’re going in the right direction,” Davis said. “It lies in the hands of the commission to vote on this, and hopefully, all this can end.”
Davis said it’s getting down to “crunch time” for beginning the project, which Penn National hopes to begin by the end of construction season this year.
Penn National has agreed to pay the state a $75 million relocation fee (from a suburban Columbus location) and $50 million license fee for the Austintown project, plus pump another $125 million into construction of the facility. Penn National already owns a 195-acre parcel in Mahoning County, formerly zoned for a proposed industrial park in Austintown, and has completed initial site work.
But the company and the racing commission have been at odds for weeks over seating arrangements at the racino, with commissioners saying there weren’t enough to accommodate cold-weather racing fans and Penn National saying the proposed seating is adequate for a facility where many customers would be more focused on playing video lottery terminals.
There’s room for about 1,500 of the state- administered electronic slots at the racino.
Penn has altered its plans several times, with the most recent version including more than 500 indoor seats with track views, another 242 indoor seats without direct track views and 650 outdoor bleacher seats.
Most recently, the company committed to two possible future expansions, valued at nearly $8 million, that would put the final number of indoor seats with track views at more than 1,000.