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A planned racino in Warren County cleared a major regulatory hurdle Tuesday, gaining key approval from a state commission that was holding up the project.

The Ohio State Racing Commission unanimously approved racino operator Miami Valley Racing’s plans for seating at the new Lebanon Raceway near Interstate 75.

Miami Valley Gaming officials said the plan, which added 200 enclosed grandstand seats compared to a previous version the commission rejected last month, will keep the project on track for a February 2014 opening.

The racing commission also voted to move the project to the Ohio Lottery Commission, which needs to sign off on the racino’s site plan and provide final approval for the company to operate Video Lottery Terminals (electronic slot machines) at the site.

The additional grandstands bring the racino’s total number of enclosed seats with a view of the racetrack to 1,048. That’s still about 230 less than the commission had demanded last month, but commissioners said they were willing to compromise.

“I think Miami Valley certainly has shown good faith and I think they’ve gone halfway, so I think we can go halfway,” said commissioner Mark Munroe.

Warren County Commissioners Pat South and Tom Ariss exclaimed “that’s great news” when informed of the racing commission’s decision.

“We’re glad Miami Valley Gaming and the racing commission have agreed and are moving forward,” South said. “I’m sure that Miami Valley Gaming wants to get on with building and the racing commission, whether intentionally or inadvertently, stalled that.”

Officials with Penn National, the company behind a racino planned for Dayton’s north side, also appeared before the racing commission Tuesday, although no significant action was taken.

Penn National’s plans to build racinos in Dayton and the Youngstown area were were suspended last month after the racing commission voted to require the company to add 650 additional enclosed seats with a view of the racetrack to each site.

Penn National Vice President of Corporate Development Steven Snyder on Tuesday asked the racing commission to consider helping develop criteria that would trigger expansion of the racinos’ seating capacity at some point down the road.

Snyder restated that adding 650 extra seats would undermine the company’s business plan and set the project back for six months.

Snyder said building that many seats would be like “building a church for Easter Sunday” that would result in grandstands that are largely empty for most of the year.

Commission Chairman Robert Schmitz said the commission will meet again soon — possibly within the next 10 days — to consider Penn National’s request.

Staff Writer Denise Callahan contributed to this report


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