Dayton racino gets OK from Racing Commission

Workers are expected to break ground on a new Dayton racino within the next few days, following a Wednesday vote from the Ohio State Racing Commission that breaks a stalemate that had delayed the project.

The racino, located at the site of a former Delphi plant, will cost about $125 million, and will employ an estimated 750 people. Penn National Gaming officials predict the racino will indirectly create another 250 jobs in related businesses, as well as create 1,000 temporary construction jobs.

Commissioners unanimously voted Wednesday to OK Penn National’s request to transfer a racing license from Raceway Park in Toledo to the planned Dayton Hollywood Racino on Dayton’s north side. Commissioners also OK’d a similar Penn National license transfer request to move a racetrack from Grove City to a planned racino in the Youngstown area.

The Dayton racino, to be located off Needmore and Wagner Ford roads, must have 1,037 seats fully-enclosed with a view of live racing, under the plans approved by commissioners.

“We’ve got a good path forward to bring about a new era in horse racing in Ohio,” said racing commissioner Mark Munroe.

Company officials are targeting an opening date in the first quarter of 2014. The racino will feature standardbred harness racing, with a live racing season slated for between Sept 1 and Dec. 31, as well as 1,500 electronic slot machines and dining options.

“It’s a triple win for us,” said Shelley Dickstein, Dayton’s assistant city manager for strategic development. “We’re getting jobs. We’re getting investment, and we are getting a brownfield that had been left there to blight on the community cleaned up.”

The city has not given Penn any incentives to bring the development to Dayton.

Racing commissioners and gaming company officials had been at odds for months over the number of seats — a disagreement that previously caused Penn National to suspend construction on the site for about five weeks.

The company initially proposed seating for roughly 200 people, racing commissioners said. After prodding, Penn National upped the number of seats to around 650, saying anything beyond that would not only exceed demand and lead to a mostly-empty facility, but also require the company to completely redesign its project from scratch, a process that would take as much as six months.

But the company said last week they could get to 1,037 seats without a serious redesign by enclosing what had been planned as outdoor grandstands.

Penn National officials said Wednesday the final number is a “workable compromise,” and should allow the company to break ground as soon as they can get workers mobilized to the site. The racino could open its doors around 12 months from now, said company spokesman Eric Schippers.

“While it (the extra seating) does add some cost to the project, it does preserve the fan experience and allows us to get back to work and bring these projects to fruition,” Schippers said.

Those in Ohio’s horse racing community hope the new racinos will inject money into the sport, as well spur renewed public interest in going to the track.

Tom Gray, a Dayton standard-bred horse owner, called the Dayton racino “the greatest thing that has happened in Montgomery County.”

“Montgomery County needs the jobs, and we need places to race,” Gray said.

Gray said he’s not concerned about competition between the Dayton racino and the one under development in Warren County’s Turtlecreek Twp. by Miami Valley Gaming & Racing, because their racing reason seasons will be different.

Proposed racing dates for the Warren County racino, to which the racing commission gave its preliminary approval last month, begins the day after the racing season in Dayton ends, running from Jan. 1 to April 30.

The racing commission and the Ohio Lottery Commission still need to give a final sign-off on the Dayton, Toledo and Warren County racinos, but the number of seats will likely be the most contentious step of the process.

Now that the racing commission has approved the transfer of Raceway Park to Dayton, the Ohio Lottery Commission will take a more in-depth look at the company’s application to operate Video Lottery Terminals — electronic slot machines — to make sure Penn has met specifications in areas like security and dealing with problem gambling, Marie Kilbane, spokeswoman for the the lottery commission said.

It seems unlikely that Penn National would have any serious problems passing muster — the Ohio Casino Control Commission has already authorized the company to operate casinos in Toledo and Columbus that recently opened.

Still, Kilbane would not put a time frame on the lottery commission’s review.

“They just got the okay from the racing commission. The dust hasn’t settled yet, so it’s hard to say,” Kilbane said.

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