The group that initially wanted to build a racetrack in the Mahoning Valley has changed course and now is eyeing a full-scale casino in the area, if they can get voter approval.
Rick Lertzman, formerly with Mahoning Valley Downs and now with Mahoning Gaming, said on Tuesday that it is the group's intention to circulate a petition across the state in hopes to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot, allowing a fifth casino to be built in Ohio.
''We think that Youngstown deserves the same as Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus, a first-rate casino,'' Lertzman said. ''We don't think the people of Youngstown deserve a second-rate casino.''
Lertzman and Mahoning Gaming are working on writing up the petition which will need, according to his numbers, at least 350,000 signatures within the state before they could place it before the Secretary of State.
''What we're doing right now, we are finishing a constitutional amendment that will go to the voters and will allow a fifth site. We're going to collect the signatures and it looks like we'll have it on the ballot this November,'' Lertzman said.
Last week, a deal was reached between Penn National Gaming Inc. and Gov. John Kasich's office, which opened the door even wider for the possibility of a horse racing track and video lottery terminal facility to be built in Austintown.
An amendment to the state constitution passed by voters in 2009 allows four casinos:
''These people have proven over and over again that they have absolutely no credibility on this issue,'' Bob Tenenbaum, spokesman for Penn National said of the rival Mahoning Valley Downs group, which had been planning to build in Vienna. ''I think it would be a mistake for anyone to take this seriously.''
In February 2011, both Lertzman and Mahoning Valley Downs and Penn National unveiled plans to build a racetrack and VLT facility in the Mahoning Valley, but in recent months the clear front-runner has been Penn National.
''I think Youngstown, Warren and the entire Mahoning Valley deserves the best and not a second-rate race track,'' he said. ''To compete against full-scale casinos, it's an impossibility if you are going to throw in slot machines and make it a 'slot house.' We look to make it a full-scale resort complex and we'll need everything.''
Currently, the Ohio constitution allows four casinos to be built and operated in the state, one in Columbus, one in Cleveland, another in Toledo and one in Cincinnati.
In order to have a fifth casino built in the state, the state constitution of the state would have to be amended.
''We support the constitution as it currently stands,'' Tenenbaum said. ''I think it is a shame to keep teasing the people who live and work in the Mahoning Valley with these pie-in-the-sky plans that have nothing behind them.''
According to Lertzman, the plans are very legitimate.
''We've been working on it. If Penn wants to go against it and spend the money going against it, we're just fully moving ahead with this,'' Lertzman said. ''We're planning to get it to the attorney general in the next week and a half to two weeks and get (the petition) out about mid-April.''