By Marc Kovac
State racing officials say they’ll postpone a final vote on racing dates at a new Austintown racino until they can reach some kind of agreement with Penn National Gaming on the number of horse stalls at the site.
“I don’t think there’s a huge appetite right now to move forward with racing dates ... until this issue is resolved,” said commission Chairman Robert Schmitz.
He added, “This is going to be my recommendation. ... And the bottom line on that is, as you know, without a permit, you can’t have video lottery.”
The two sides made little headway on a resolution during the Ohio State Racing Commission’s regular business meeting Thursday near the Statehouse, where commissioners continued to push for closer to 1,000 stalls and a Penn National representative sticking with the 760 stalls outlined in current building plans.
Mark Loewe, Penn’s vice president of racing operations in Ohio, said plans are underway for 10 barns with 76 stalls in each at the Austintown site. There’s room for three additional barns, which would increase the stall count to close to 1,000. But the company is not planning to build them initially, citing the extra cost of about $2 million.
Racing commission members questioned that budget constraint, citing hundreds of millions of dollars in extra spending at Penn facilities in other states and tracks owned by other companies in Ohio that have more than 1,000 horse stalls.
Commissioners also voiced concern that inadequate facilities for horses could hamper racing.
“I’m greatly concerned that we’re building this supposedly great facility ... but it’s almost designed to, if not fail, to not be as effective as it should be,” said commission member Thomas Winters.
Earlier this year, the racing commission signed off on Penn’s plans to relocate its existing track in suburban Columbus to the Youngstown area. The company has scheduled a mid-2014 opening date for its new Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course, with video-lottery terminals initially available and live horse-racing tentatively scheduled to start in November.
The state racing commission reviewed Penn’s 2014 racing-date application, which calls for live racing Nov. 1-Dec. 20. Commissioners have to OK the dates before the track can open for racing or operate video slots.
This isn’t the first time Penn and racing officials have been at odds over the Austintown racino plans. The two sides haggled for months over the number of indoor seats with trackside views before reaching an agreement on that issue earlier this year.