Construction of a new racetrack gaming facility in the Mahoning Valley is well under way, but the track's owner and the Ohio State Racing Commission continued a battle over a commitment on the number of stalls in the barn area Jan. 23.
Mark Loewe, who oversees the Ohio racetrack project for Penn National Gaming Inc., told the OSRC the company and the Ohio Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association have a term sheet for a long-form agreement that includes 988 stalls for Thoroughbreds. PNGI previously agreed to up the number from about 750.
Loewe then told the racing commission the stall count is predicated upon reaching a final agreement with the Ohio HBPA. When pushed by OSRC chairman Robert Schmitz, Loewe said: "If we do not have an agreement, we will not build that number of stalls."
Schmitz, however, said he received an e-mail from PNGI vice president of racing Chris McErlean that indicated the company would build 988 stalls regardless of an agreement with horsemen on other issues, including the percentage that will go to purses from video lottery terminals at Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course.
"Am I to believe you or your superior?" Schmitz asked Loewe. "Again, I'm disappointed with Penn Gaming. We're looking for the right answer, and we get a conditional answer."
The back-and-forth continued at the end of the OSRC meeting after both men rechecked their e-mails.
"I stand by my previous statement (concerning McErlean's e-mails)," Loewe said. "It's one of a chain of e-mails."
McErlean didn't attend the meeting. PNGI officials later said there was more content in the e-mail.
"It's amazing when we deal with Penn Gaming," Schmitz said. "I'm appalled. I understand you are in negotiations on some of these points, but without 988 stalls you will not be granted a permit to race. And without a racing permit, you will not have VLTs."
Mahoning Valley, located not far from Youngstown, is scheduled to open this fall.
The issue raised another question concerning the parameters of agreements between racetracks and horsemen's groups for new facilities. OSRC member Thomas Winters offered his opinion.
"The build-out of tracks and stable areas shouldn't be conditioned upon what they do with the HBPA," Winters said.
OSRC member Mark Munroe, who lives in the Mahoning Valley and regularly visits the Austintown Township site to check on the progress of construction, said the two parties have an agreement in principle, and "it has taken us months to get there. It looks like it is well on track for everything to be resolved."
Munroe also said PNGI is expanding the racetrack seating area at Mahoning Valley, which will replace Beulah Park on the Ohio Thoroughbred racing circuit.
"I think Penn is doing a good job," he said. "We are on track to have something good happen. I'm confident the racing fans in Dayton and Austintown will benefit from this birthing process."
PNGI also is building a racetrack gaming facility in Dayton. The harness track will be called Hollywood Gaming at Dayton Raceway.
In other business, Miami Valley Gaming & Raceway, a track that has no pari-mutuel clerks, was granted a racing permit with several conditions. It is believed having clerks take bets is one issue, as are expanded seating and dining for racing patrons, and construction of a safety fence along the homestretch to protect those who watch races on the apron.
The track, which began VLT operations in December, will begin its inaugural harness meet Feb. 7. It is owned by Churchill Downs Inc. and Delaware North Companies.