COLUMBUS — State regulators on Wednesday started the clock ticking for the end of horse racing in Toledo.
Penn National Gaming Inc., won approval from the Ohio State Racing Commission to move its license for Raceway Park to Dayton. The 2013 racing schedule at Raceway will be completed, and Penn is likely to seek permission to keep racing there in 2014 up until its new Hollywood Dayton Raceway opens sometime in the second quarter of that year.
“We are so appreciative of what Penn Gaming is going to do to help our communities and help further the interests of horse racing in Ohio,” said Commissioner Mark Munroe of the Youngstown area.
The commission also approved the transfer of Penn’s existing license at its Beulah Park thoroughbred track outside of Columbus to Austintown Township near Youngstown.
Penn is moving both tracks so it then could receive state licenses to integrate them with slots parlors that would not compete with the voter-approved, Las Vegas-style casinos it opened last year on Toledo’s riverfront and the west side of Columbus.
Recently, Penn had warned the commissioners’ demands that it add more seating with views of the horses would lead to major delays in their construction timetables. Penn said Wednesday construction can resume with minimal delay.
However, the license transfer resolution approved for Raceway Park still includes a requirement that Penn certify its new building will have 1,037 seats with views of live racing.
“We’re going to continue to race at Raceway Park while we’re under way with construction at the other facility so there can be a seamless transition between the last race at Raceway Park and the beginning [at Dayton],” said Eric Schippers, Penn’s senior vice president of public affairs. “It’s going to take about a year for construction of these facilities.”
Raceway Park — whose 2013 live racing schedule started just last weekend — is scheduled to race until October of this year. But Penn is likely to at least begin the racing cycle at Raceway in the spring of 2014 until Dayton is ready to open.
“We’ve committed to working with the city on the disposition of the land,” Mr. Schippers said. “We want to make sure that this is not a situation where the property’s going to lie fallow. We want to work on an economic development project that’s a win-win for the city.”
He said the city has asked Penn to meet with certain developers. “All of that is very preliminary at this point,” he said.
Ken Marciniak of the Toledo office of Signature Associates, which specializes in industrial properties, said he is marketing the 97 acres with an asking price of $3 million. “We are not placing any signs because it will be open for at least another season,” Mr. Marciniak said. “We are working on one very strong prospect that I am not at liberty to discuss. The owners and the city are working very closely.”
Toledo officials said the commission's decision, while not unexpected, was disappointing.
Councilman Lindsay Webb, whose district includes Raceway Park, said Penn and Mayor Mike Bell’s administration have been working to market the site.
“They are committed to making it as attractive as possible,” Ms. Webb said. “I remain disappointed with Penn National, which could have been more straight-forward initially with council and that could have led to a better decision” when it came to council’s decision to endorse the 2009 ballot issue approving the four Ohio casinos.
She also said local voters may have reacted differently if they’d known it would mean the end to horse racing in the city. Raceway has offered horse racing since the late 1950s.
Ms. Webb referred to an October, 2009, council hearing at which Mr. Schippers said the track would neither compete with its proposed casino in East Toledo nor be closed once the casino opened.
Securities and Exchange Commission filings showed Raceway Park had lost the company money for years.
Lawmakers set aside $12 million from track relocation fees that Penn must pay to help the cities with soon-to-be-abandoned tracks demolish the structures and repurpose the land.
“I believe $1 million to $4 million is available to communities to adjust to the loss,” Ms. Webb said.
Penn is spending a total of $150 million to have the two licenses transferred. It then plans to spend another $250 million total building the two racetracks.
Columbus bureau chief Jim Provance contributed to this report.
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