Racino offers new proposal

AUSTINTOWN – The company hoping to build a thoroughbred racetrack and video lottery terminal here revised its proposal for at least the fourth time in a presentation Wednesday to the Ohio Race Commission.

Commission members said they would consider the new proposal from Penn National Gaming, which now includes 513 indoor table and box seats, all with views of the racetrack.

The proposal has wiped out plans for outdoor seating at this point, largely because it is anticipated that the race season for this track will be October to March.

Penn National and the Ohio Race Commission have been at odds for several weeks over the number of spectator seats proposed for the track, with the race commission demanding hundreds more seats before it would approve the license transfer to Austintown.

Penn National spokesman Bob Tenenbaum said Wednesday’s latest proposal came in response to questioning last week by race commission member Mark Munroe of Mahoning County about whether replacing the table and box seats with bleacher seating had led to the loss of some of the race experience.

Penn National has maintained that experience has shown that the number of seats they projected should be sufficient for the expected number of spectators.

Noting budget limits, Tenenbaum said the latest proposal does not include both indoor and outdoor seating.

“We basically swapped additional table seating for the exterior seating. Given the budget constraints, we can’t do both,” Tenenbaum said. “Our goal was to try to meet the commissioner’s needs within our construction budget.”

Penn National has committed to investing upwards of $125 million on the Austintown project, and another similar amount on a separate project in Dayton. The company is hoping to move two of its tracks in other parts of Ohio to Austintown and Dayton.

In an effort to satisfy the race commission, Penn National also on Wednesday outlined a compromise that includes optional additional indoor seating that could be implemented in future phases if attendance figures demand.

“That would set some measurable criteria to determine if we were, in fact, wrong,” Tenenbaum said. “It would enclose the lower level to house 488 seats for 1,001 indoor seats.”

A second proposed future expansion requiring a building addition also would accommodate another 466 spectators, bringing the total number up to 1,467 seats.

Austintown Trustee Jim Davis, who has attended all of the Columbus meetings in which the local track was discussed before the Ohio Race Commission, said he was hopeful the race commission would be agreeable to Penn National’s latest proposal.

“They are the number one company in the entire nation for parimutuel racing,” Davis said, explaining he believes the company is qualified to determine the number of spectator seats that are needed.

Last week race commission chairman Robert K. Schmitz said he wanted to see the proposal before commenting on whether the commission would consider a compromise.

Wednesday he said the board would take the new proposal under advisement and respond to it soon.

Tenenbaum said if the race commission gives its blessing, construction at the Austintown site could be up and running within a matter of days.

Meanwhile, Tenenbaum indicated that an agreement with the Ohio Horseman’s Benevolent and Protective Association also is nearing. The horsemen had been demanding an increased number of horse stalls from the proposed 500. Talks now have the number of horse stalls at 818 in 11 barns, he said.