Last week, the Ohio Gaming Commission again did not move forward on granting the license for the Penn National Gaming to begin construction of a race track/video lottery terminal racino. Austintown Township Trustee Jim Davis said he is growing tired of the constant delays and has begun a letter-writing campaign to ask the governor for assistance.
"My concerns are that the process to build a racetrack in this state is dysfunctional, and seriously needs addressed," Davis said. "It troubles me that the largest gaming and racing operation in the country wants to build not one, but two, new race courses in our state and they have NO guidance from our state other than have a five-member board that continually denies their transfer and tells them their plans are not good enough."
Davis, who has made trips to Columbus to testify on Penn National's behalf, said the latest hold-up involves the gaming commission wanting a different seating arrangement. He said the commission is saying Penn National must add 650 enclosed, climate-controlled seats to the plans. They also felt the number of horse stalls was inadequate. Davis said he heard the number 1,000 stalls mentioned.
In an effort to show support while asking for the governor's help in the matter, Davis sent a letter to Erik Yassenoff, assistant policy director for asset management for Gov. John Kasich. The idea came after attending a Regional Chamber salute to business meeting recently where he got to speak with Bryan Bennett, advance coordinator for Kasich.
"When I met with Bennett, he advised me he would have my concerns addressed and have a regional liaison contact me," Davis said. "It had been one week and I did not hear from him as of this morning so I emailed him and received another contact, Mr. Yassenoff."
Davis sent the email last week and said he plans to stay on top of this until the gaming commission finally approves the moving of the race track license from the Columbus-based Beulah Park thoroughbred race course to Austintown.
He said it means more than 1,000 construction jobs for Austintown just to build the racino, along with another 1,000-plus jobs when it opens. He told the governor's office that already Austintown hotels are remodeling and upgrading to be ready for Penn National. He also mentioned the trickle-down effect that would bring additional jobs to the area once in opens.
Davis said his one big issue is the fact there is no "set-in-stone" criteria for building a race track/racino in Ohio. He said it was as if the commission was making it up as they go.
"I represent one of the largest townships in this state and in order to build a home or business in our community, we have guidelines and minimum requirements you must meet," Davis said. "In essence, you can exceed our guidelines but don't present plans less than what's required. If you meet our requirements, we issue your permits. It amazes me that this state, that I'm so proud to live in, doesn't have some regulations to present to a company such as Penn National to say, 'These are our requirements.' This has been a guessing game since day one for them."
In his letter to Yassenoff, Davis said Penn National has met all the township guidelines and requirements, and the permits from the township zoning have been signed and will be issued as soon as they are needed. He also told Yassenoff that Penn National has gone above and beyond those requirements, including meeting with local residents on a one-on-one basis to address any concerns they may have.
Davis finished his letter by saying, "My township cannot afford to see this project fall apart due to poor communication from the state to investors who are trying to spend $125-plus million in my community."