PNGI Explores Option to Move Ohio Tracks

PNGI said it's exploring the possibility of moving one or both of its Ohio tracks.

Penn National Gaming Inc. confirmed Jan. 21 there is a possibility it may attempt to relocate one or both of its Ohio racetracks to avoid competition with full-scale casinos the company is building nearby.

The tracks in question are Beulah Park near Columbus and Raceway Park, a harness track in Toledo just south of the Michigan border. PNGI added Beulah Park to its stable of tracks in 2010.

The revelation, which was rumored last year but not confirmed, came days after a developer announced intentions to pursue a racing license for a new track near Youngstown, Ohio. Mahoning Valley Downs & Resort would offer racing and video lottery terminals if legalized, a hotel, and entertainment, shopping, and dining options.

Northeastern Ohio, where Youngstown is located, was among the spots reportedly under consideration by PNGI last year.

“It’s something we’re continuing to explore,” said PNGI senior vice president of public affairs Eric Schippers. “Having potential VLTs at the tracks in Columbus and Toledo compete against the standalone casinos up the street ultimately may not be in the best interests of either racing or the state given the cannibalization effect.”

Ohio voters in 2009 approved four casinos, one each in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, and Toledo. Each market is served by at least one racetrack.

Beulah Park is located about 15 minutes from Scioto Downs, a harness track owned by MTR Gaming Group, operator of Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort in West Virginia near the eastern Ohio border. There had been talk a few years ago about both breeds consolidating at one of the tracks.

The Youngstown market is served by racetrack casinos in nearby Pennsylvania and West Virginia, but the closest Ohio racetrack is more than 50 miles away near Cleveland.

The Mahoning Valley Development Group was scheduled to meet with the Ohio State Racing Commission Jan. 21 to discuss a license application. The proposed facility would require approval via local petition as well.

Transfer of an existing racing license to another location must be approved by the OSRC, but the process would be considerably easier.

Action on any licenses probably hinges on what Republican Gov. John Kasich’s strategy is for gaming in the state. Kasich has not yet said whether he will move forward with a 2009 directive from former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland for the Ohio Lottery to install VLTs at racetracks.