Horsemen ink deal with racino

AUSTINTOWN – A deal signed Monday morning by the owners of the new Austintown race course and the horsemen’s association is expected to pave the way for this month’s release of the track’s first horse race schedule requested to begin Nov. 24.

Under the agreement, stalls to house as many as 988 horses will be built in 13 barns on the property. Other terms of the 10-year agreement, which were not released, dealt with things such as revenue sharing of video lottery terminals, revenue to boost race purses, approval for simulcasting of races at the track, a coordinated year-round racing schedule with ThistleDown Racino near Cleveland and dormitory spaces for grooms working for horsemen at the track.

The formal deal between Penn National Gaming Inc. and the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protection Association, or OHBPA, was required before the Ohio Race Commission would proceed with issuing a racing permit for the new Austintown track and approve a race schedule.

The racing commission is scheduled to meet March 20 in Columbus. Ohio State Racing Commission Executive Director Bill Crawford said last month he looks for the race schedule to be approved and released at the regular March meeting.

“We are hopeful that with a signed contract now in hand, the commission will act at its next scheduled meeting this month to issue a racing permit and approve the 2014 racing dates we have applied for at Mahoning Valley,” said Christopher McErlean, vice president of Racing for Penn National.

David Basler, executive director for the OHBPA, who was involved in the negotiations that lasted about six months, expressed satisfaction and optimism.

“It was not an easy negotiation, but we are pleased with where we ended up,” Basler said. “Both Penn National and the Ohio Horsemen look forward to getting things started for racing in the Mahoning Valley.”

Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course is scheduled to open in the fall of 2014 on state Route 46, just south of the Interstate 80 interchange in Austintown. Penn National has requested 21 live racing dates for the 2014 season at the one-mile track beginning Nov. 24.

The facility will include enclosed grandstand seating for more than 1,000 people. Indoor seating is being built because the race track is expected to have racing beginning late fall and running through the winter months.

Also being built is a video lottery terminal facility that will open with approximately 850 VLTs, slot machine-like terminals. The company hopes to expand that number to 1,000 once the local market begins to develop. Penn National spokesman Bob Tenenbaum said a slow ramp-up is not unusual for Penn National because it takes time to develop the rewards program.

The track operator originally had proposed 500 stalls, which the Horsemen’s Association had called insufficient.

The large number of horse stalls is needed because, on average, 320 horses race each week, and thoroughbreds race only once every two to four weeks. Most of the horses are housed at the track for the entire race season.