Thistledown near Cleveland is one of the closest tracks to proposed racetrack and resort.

Thistledown near Cleveland is one of the closest tracks to proposed racetrack and resort.

Courtesy of Thistledown

Group Plans Ohio Track; Hoping for VLTs

A development company wants to build a racetrack and resort in eastern Ohio.

An eastern Ohio development company officially announced Jan. 17 plans to construct a racetrack and resort called Mahoning Valley Downs in the Youngstown, Ohio, area.

The Mahoning Valley Development Group in a release said the $300 million project calls for a Thoroughbred racetrack, hotel, golf course, retail, and entertainment facilities “with an eye toward the expansion of (video lottery terminals) to racetracks.” Further details were to be announced Jan. 18, officials said.

The proposed track would require a license from the Ohio State Racing Commission. Ohio currently has seven racetracks, none in the Mahoning Valley.

Thistledown and Northfield Park, a harness track, are the closest Ohio tracks to the area. Youngstown is closer to Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort in West Virginia and a harness track and casino planned for western Pennsylvania just across the Ohio border.

Dr. Bradford Pressman, one of the principals in Mahoning Valley Development Group, said the company had heard rumors Penn National Gaming Inc. intended to relocate Beulah Park near Columbus or Raceway Park, a Toledo harness track, to the Youngstown area. Such rumors were circulating in racing circles in mid-2010.

“We believe it would be quite unfortunate to take away all of those jobs from Toledo or Columbus,” Pressman said in a statement. “Our group has designed a plan to expand Ohio’s racing industry, add new jobs, and create the eighth racetrack in Ohio.

“We have carefully checked with the Ohio Racing Commission over the past two years that we are following all their regulations. We fully believe that we fall into the parameters, and look forward to applying for the eighth license in creating Mahoning Valley Downs and Resort.”

There was no immediate indication the plan hinges on approval of racetrack VLTs. Former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland issued a 2009 directive to the Ohio Lottery to implement racetrack VLTs, but the issue got tied up in court and he never moved forward. New Republican Gov. John Kasich has said he’s not sure how he will proceed, though he recently indicated unhappiness with the tax rate to be paid by four casinos authorized by a statewide referendum.

The developer claims the project, which would be located on 100 acres, could create 1,000 construction jobs and 1,500-2,000 permanent jobs in the generally depressed Youngstown area, once a hub of industrial activity.

Ohio horse racing has suffered in recent years as competition for gambling dollars in neighboring states has grown. In-state pari-mutuel handle has dropped more than $300 million a year from the mid-1990s when full-card simulcasts were authorized, and purses have plummeted to levels not seen in decades.