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Published: Thursday, 3/21/2013

State urges Penn National to add more seats to watch horse racing at Dayton 'racino'

Penn says change would cause delays

BY JIM PROVANCE BLADE
COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — Penn National Gaming’s slots-equipped Dayton successor to Toledo’s Raceway Park still needs more seats where patrons can actually see a live horse, state regulators said Wednesday.

Penn returned to the Ohio State Racing Commission with new plans that added about 300 indoor seats with racetrack views and made the point that it can’t do more without making significant changes to its proposed building and disrupting its timetable to open some time next spring.

“You can see from the simulcast area?” commission Chairman Robert K. Schmitz said.

“Not without getting out of your seat,” said John Finamore, Penn’s senior vice president of regional operations.

“That doesn’t count,” Mr. Schmitz said.

Penn is spending a total of $150 million to ask the racing commission to transfer its existing harness-racing license at Raceway Park and thoroughbred-racing license at Beulah Park near Columbus to Dayton and just outside of Youngstown, respectively.

Penn doesn’t want its planned gaming parlors equipped with slotslike video lottery terminals to directly compete with the new voter-approved, Las Vegas-style casinos it has opened within the last year on the Toledo riverfront and in west Columbus. It is seeking VLT licenses from the Ohio Lottery Commission.

Penn then plans to spend another $250 million total building the two “racinos.”

The commission plans to take another look at the issue on March 27, with Penn urging quick consideration so it can start pouring concrete at both sites in April.

“We’ve gone now three iterations to try to work inside the envelope of the buildings that have already been designed and started the permitting process,” Steve Snyder, a Penn senior vice-president, said.

“We can’t get any more into these buildings,” he said. “If you are asking us to add seating, we must expand the building. Expanding the building will delay the schedule that you’ve seen. ... You’ve got the best we’ve been able to come up with.”

At roughly the same time that the new Hollywood Dayton Raceway opens as planned sometime during the second quarter of 2014, the tradition of racing at Raceway Park will end.

The commission has expressed concern that the very similar building designs, one on a reclaimed former Delphi industrial site in Dayton and the other on wet industrial-zoned property in Austintown Township near Youngstown, appear to have too much of a focus on the slotslike gaming machines and on simulcast racing. In both cases, patrons either would not be within view of the new track or likely would have their backs turned to it.

At one point, Mr. Schmitz asked how many seats were dedicated to the video-gaming machines. The answer: 1,500.

“So 1,500 seats for people to play the games?” he asked.

Both structures generally have outdoor-bleacher seating for about 650 people and about 518 seats that are enclosed. The latter number is up from roughly 200 thanks to a reconfigured seating design and a glass wall through which patrons can see the track.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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