The suits were out in force during Thursday’s announcement by Penn National Gaming that it will invest $200 million in a Racino (trotters racetrack and slots casino) in Austintown. The men in black, or blue, included Eric Schippers, Penn National senior vice president, public affairs and government relations; Congressman Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, Tom Humphries, Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber president and chief executive officer, and Don Crane, president of the Western Reserve Building and Construction Trades Council.
The announcement was in sharp contrasted to the one several weeks ago by two individuals involved in an entity called Mahoning Valley Development Group that is talking about building a Racino in Vienna Township. Rick Lertzman and Brad Pressman would not identify the location, nor would they say who is putting up the $300 million or so for the project.
Therein lies the difference between the Penn National Gaming's initiative and MVDG's proposal. One has brought its checkbook to the table; the other is so vague about who the investors are that its credibility is now in question.
This writer has speculated that the investor in the Mahoning Valley Downs and Resort is Rock Ohio Gaming, created by Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers and founder of Quicken Loans, and Caesars Entertainment, the world’s leading gaming operator. Rock Ohio is building two Vegas-style casinos in Cleveland and one in Cincinnati. Penn National is building a full-service casino in Toledo and one in Columbus.
Penn National owns a harness-racing track in Toledo that it wants to relocate to the Centerpointe property in Austintown off Route 46.
The show of force at Thursday’s announcement — state Rep. Ron Gerberry, Mahoning County Commissioner John McNally and Austintown Township Trustee David Ditzler were also suited up — was designed to deliver a clear message to the Mahoning Valley: Penn National Gaming is serious about investing in this region, creating 1,000 construction jobs and 1.500 permanent jobs.
The bet has been raised. Will the Mahoning Valley Development Group respond by bringing Dan Gilbert and Gary Loveland, chief executive officer of Caesars Entertainment, to town and have them announce their financial involvement in Mahoning Valley Downs and Resort, or will MVDG fold?