Plan to Move OH Tracks Not Without Opposition

by Brian Kraft

Two of Ohio’s oldest racetracks could be relocating to other Buckeye State cities if owner Penn National Gaming Inc. has its way, but the moves won’t come without opposition.

PNGI president and chief executive officer Tim Wilmott made the company’s case Feb. 10 before the Ohio State Racing Commission and a capacity crowd. He seeks to move Beulah Park, located near Columbus, to the north Dayton area, and Toledo’s harness track, Raceway Park, to Austintown Township in the Mahoning Valley, where Youngstown is located.

The move of the tracks, however, is far from certain: Wilmott said any relocation is contingent on the approval of racetrack video lottery terminals in Ohio.

PNGI last appeared before the OSRC in April 2010 before its purchase of Beulah Park, assuring the commission it would not close the racetracks to eliminate competition for new casinos approved by Ohio voters in 2009.

Company officials now said tracks need to move to accommodate bettors, and the Dayton and Youngstown areas are two markets they believe are underserved in the statewide distribution of casinos and racetracks. In addition, competition from new stand alone casinos in Columbus and Toledo, now under construction by PNGI, will take revenue from the tracks in their current locations, Wilmott said.

“We know from our operating casinos the most important force in driving visitation is proximity to residents,” Wilmott said.

If VLTs at racetracks were approved, PNGI would be willing to invest $400 million in the new locations to produce revenue to help the racing industry and the state, Wilmott said. About $50 million of the proposed investment would go toward license fees for the VLT operations.

The relocations, he said, would create approximately 3,000 jobs and add $200 million to Ohio’s annual gaming tax receipts.

“We believe, given the opportunity to relocate our Toledo and Columbus racetracks, that it will be a benefit to the state of Ohio and racing industry in Ohio,” Wilmott said.

PNGI touted its track record in other states as reason to predict success for the two new facilities.

“We are committed to building a state-of-the-art, fully integrated racing and gaming facility,” Wilmott said. “No one has more expertise in racino development here in the United States.”

Though racing commissioners expressed satisfaction with the company’s commitment to Ohio racing, not everyone supports the developments.

“I just want to assure you that we will strongly oppose any move into the territory we operate in,” said Lou Carlo, co-owner of Lebanon Raceway, a harness track between Cincinnati and Dayton. He said Lebanon, which has eyed a move north toward Dayton should VLTs be approved, would be in competition with the proposed PNGI racino.

Officials from Northfield Park, a Cleveland-area harness track, questioned the PNGI proposal to move to the Youngstown area, which is about 50 miles from the Cleveland metropolitan area.

None of it will matter, however, if racetrack VLTs aren’t authorized by the state. If they aren’t, Wilmott said both tracks will remain in their current locations.

“It would be business as usual,” he said. “We would continue to run at Toledo and Beulah. The operations are breaking even or suffering minor losses. It’s all based on business conditions.

“If things stay the same, we will continue to operate, (but) I can’t tell what the future will hold.”

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