The planned race track/casino in Austintown could take a big leap forward as early as this week, depending on what happens in the state legislature. It began a series of meetings last week, but as of Monday had not finalized the bill needed to get the ball rolling.
According to Bob Tenebaum, spokesman for Penn National Gaming, the final hurdles include passing legislation dealing with horse racing and Video Lottery Terminals, adoption of rules by the Ohio State Racing Commission that includes formalizing the agreement between Penn National and the governor's office, and the outcome of a lawsuit pending in Franklin County challenging the state's right to implement the VLT program.
"Unfortunately, until the issues mentioned above have been finalized, there is no way to predict when construction can begin," Tenebaum said.
If the state legislature does finalize the issues in favor of the new track, the next step would be to apply for the township permits. That would require a detailed plan for the new race track facility.
"At this point, they have not submitted a plan," said Austintown Township Zoning Inspector Darren Crivelli. "Once they do submit a plan, I will have to review it to make any determination."
Tenebaum said once the project gets past the state and local zoning, Penn National would be ready to break ground. Penn National has already purchased the property, according to Tenebaum, and is ready to go once all the legal matters are cleared up.
He said once ground is broken, the construction will take about 18 months, then the doors will open. He said Penn National likes hiring local people and he expects roughly 90 percent of the expected 3,000 jobs will be filled by residents.
"Penn National's philosophy is to hire locally wherever possible, and every effort will be made to hire people who live in the Mahoning Valley," Tenebaum said. "By way of example, Hollywood Casino Toledo, which opens on May 29, hired more than 90 percent of its 2,000 employees from the Toledo/Northwest Ohio metropolitan area."
Tenebaum said Austintown was a perfect location for the proposed thoroughbred race track and the township was selected after reviewing a couple of sites in the Mahoning Valley.
"Once it committed to locating a new racetrack/VLT facility in the Mahoning Valley, Penn National looked at several sites called to its attention by government and business community representatives in the area," he said. "The Austintown site met all of the criteria Penn National sought in choosing a location, including the amount of land available, easy access for customers, etc."
As for the racing venue, Tenebaum said it will be thoroughbred horses and he doesn't foresee any affect on the harness racing at the Canfield Fairgrounds.