COLUMBUS — The tradition of live horse-racing in Toledo has about one year of life left.
The Ohio State Racing Commission today unanimously approved the transfer of Penn National Gaming, Inc.’s racing license for Raceway Park to the city of Dayton. The 2013 racing schedule at Raceway will be completed, and Penn is likely to seek permission to continue racing there in 2014 up until its replacement track opens sometime in the second quarter of the 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. “I think, with the adoption of this resolution…, we’ve got a good path forward to bring about a new era in horse-racing in Ohio.”
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.
In both cases Penn is moving the tracks so that it could then receive state licenses to integrate them with slots parlors that would not have to compete with the voter-approved, Las Vegas-style casinos it opened last year on Toledo’s riverfront and the west side of Columbus.
The vote marked a sharp turnaround from the racing commission’s insistence that the new Hollywood Dayton Raceway and Hollywood Mahoning Valley Racecourse place more emphasis on live horse-racing. At the time, Penn said the required changes to its seating design would require a re-engineering of the buildings themselves, leading to delays in their construction timetables.
Now Penn said the construction process will resume with minimal delay.
However, the license transfer resolution approved for Raceway Park today still includes a requirement that Penn certify that its new building will open seating with views of live racing of more than 1,037 seats.
“We’re going to continue to race at Raceway Park while we’re under construction with the facility so there can be a seamless transition between the last race at Raceway Park and the beginning,” 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 is currently 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. The park has offered horse racing since the late 1950s.
“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.
Penn repeatedly returned to the racing commission with redesigns within the framework of its proposed building structure to add more seats with views of the horses, responding to frustrations by the committee members that the tracks outside were taking a back seat to the 1,500 slot machines inside each building.
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 “racinos.”