AUSTINTOWN - Ground breaking for the new Hollywood Slots at Mahoning Valley Race Course could happen as early as fall, and doors to the multimillion facility should open early in 2014.
"We are waiting for final approval from Ohio's Racing Commission to get started," Eric Schippers, a senior vice president of Public Affairs with Penn National Gaming Inc. said.
In the meantime, the company is moving forward with preliminary steps needed to break ground on the project, including getting various zoning permits and architectural drawings.
Penn National Gaming has had to overcome a series of hurdles to get to this point, including coming to terms with the governor's office about moving the race tracks and passing legislation to allow slot machines at tracks and a lawsuit about the constitutionality of the video lottery terminals.
In anticipation of getting these issues settled, Penn National now is releasing information about its planned $200 million facility in the Centerpointe Business Park, located off state Route 46.
The planned racino is being named Hollywood Slots at Mahoning Valley Race Course, because, by law, the combined racing and casino cannot have casino in its name, Schippers said.
Before his presentation, Trustee David Ditzer called it a bright day for Austintown and the Mahoning Valley.
"This is the biggest construction and employment project in the area since the announcement of V&M Star's expansion," Ditzler said.
Penn National is moving its race tracks in Toledo and Grove City, which is north of Columbus, because new multi-million dollar casinos are being built in those cities.
The harness racing track in Toledo will move to Dayton, and the Grove City thoroughbred track, called Beulah Park, will move to Austintown.
"We are moving the race track because we have a $300 million casino within a stone's throw of this facility (Beulah Park race track)," Schippers said. "It would not have grown the market, as much as it would have split the market."
Penn National will pay the state a $75 million relocation fee and another $50 million for the VLT permits.
"We are committed to this market," Schippers said. "We focused on this site early on because of the highway access."
Christopher McErlean estimates there will be races from October to the period of the Kentucky Derby.
Schippers said they are orienting the track so the barns and other horse facilities will be on the industrial side of the property, not next to residential property.
"There will be a buffer and a set back on the residential side," he said. "We will be doing heavy landscaping to make sure the buffer and the set back is intense beyond that."
Lisa Liposchak, whose home is located on what will be the southwestern part of the property, expressed concerns about the level of security at the facility.
"We will have our own security force, with people we hire from the local community," Schippers said. "These are people who are law enforcement and first responder training. We will work closely with local law enforcement."
There are cameras throughout the casino, the race tracks, and in the parking lot area, he said.
Liposchak and several of her neighbors are concerned about the layout of the track, the noise and the environmental impact it will have on surrounding residential properties.
"I like what I heard here, because they seem like they want to address our concerns," she said. "Hopefully, they are willing to work with us and keep the communication lines open. We are planning on setting a meeting up with them."
Schippers described the new facility as a seamless integration of racing and gaming facilities.
"Racing will be incremental amenity and a key part of the excitement that we are creating on the gaming facility," he said.
Once all of the approvals are finalized, Austintown, as the host community, will receive immediate benefits of $1 million in its first year, $1 million in its second year and $500,000 annually in subsequent years. That does not include the direct new jobs that will be created in the racino, the construction jobs, indirect jobs from surrounding companies, as well as property taxes.
"We are talking about creating more than 1,000 direct and indirect jobs," he said.