Ohio Tracks, Horsemen Sign 10-Year Deals

The Ohio Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association has signed 10-year racing agreements with the under-construction Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course and ThistleDown Racino, formerly known as Thistledown.

The deals end more than a year of negotiations that centered on the percentage of video lottery terminal revenue that will go to purses, but included stall accommodations, racing dates, and simulcast approvals. The ThistleDown agreement was signed March 7, while the Mahoning Valley document was approved March 10.

The parties told the Ohio State Racing Commission in late February they were close to signing agreements. At that meeting Rock Ohio Gaming, which owns ThistleDown Racino, received approval for its 122-day meet scheduled for this year; approval of dates for Mahoning Valley, owned by Penn National Gaming Inc., was delayed.

The agreement at Mahoning Valley includes 988 stalls and a 54-stall receiving barn at the track, which will be located west of Youngstown in Austintown Township. The facility, which will have at least 850 video lottery terminals and a one-mile racing surface, will replace Beulah Park near Columbus.

"We are hopeful that with a signed contract now in hand, the (OSRC) will act at its next scheduled meeting (March 27)  to issue a racing permit and approve the 2014 racing dates we have applied for at Mahoning Valley," PNGI vice president of racing Christopher McErlean said.

On March 10 McErlean declined to provide the percentage of VLT revenue that will go to purses, as did Ohio HBPA executive director Dave Basler.

Ohio statute states the percentage of gaming revenue to purses can be no lower than 9% and no higher than 11%. The numbers have been held close to the vest during negotiations between horsemen's groups and each of Ohio seven racetracks.

Some Ohio racing industry stakeholders believe the percentages will become a matter of record when the agreements are submitted to the OSRC, which is a public agency.

"We're not going to talk about the percentage now," Basler said. "But I think it will be out there when (the agreements) are filed with the racing commission" and become a matter of public record.

It's common policy for state agencies to publicly list the percentages of revenue from casino-style gambling and report where the money goes on a monthly basis.

Mahoning Valley is scheduled to open Nov. 24 for a 21-day meet. If it follows the Beulah Park schedule, it would then apply for live racing dates for the first four months of 2015.

Basler said the agreements have "coordinated language" because the two tracks will combine to offer year-round racing in northeastern Ohio. He said that was included in the agreements because of concerns some dates would overlap.

"This will bring about stability for horsemen for the next decade," Basler said.

PNGI said the agreement includes dormitory spaces for grooms at the new track, which will cost about $125 million to build not including $125 million for state license fees and the property.

Basler said there will be 84 dorm rooms each with two beds and 24-hour security at Mahoning Valley. The Ohio HBPA also worked out a deal to create a recreation hall on the backstretch.

"We're very happy to have resolution (on these contracts)," Basler said.