Updated: 7:51 a.m. Friday, Feb. 3, 2012 | Posted: 10:42 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012

Dayton horse track plan switching to harness racing

Plan was changed from thoroughbred racing.


Dayton horse track plan switching to harness racing photo
Dayton horse track plan switching to harness racing
Dayton horse track plan switching to harness racing photo
The Lebanon Raceway in Warren County hosts harness racing and the event is popular during many county fairs, including Montgomery County's event.

By Joanne Huist Smith

Staff Writer

Penn National Gaming Inc.’s plan to request relocation of a thoroughbred horse racing track to Dayton has switched to a harness racing facility.

Raceway Park, a harness-racing facility in Toledo, would be relocated to Dayton, while Columbus’s Beulah Park, a thoroughbred track, would be moved to a suburb of Youngstown, Peter M. Carlino, Penn’s chairman and chief executive officer, announced Thursday in a financial statement.

“The state of Ohio has approved the placement of VLTS (video lottery terminals) at the state’s seven racetracks, and while we await the final regulatory framework, we are actively pursuing the relocation of our existing racetracks in Toledo and Grove City to Dayton and Youngstown, respectively, subject to the satisfaction of regulatory and other approvals,” Carlino said.

Penn wants to relocate the racetracks to avoid competing with its two new casinos under construction in Columbus and Toledo.

The state’s racing commission must approve the relocations. Currently, no one has applied to relocate a track, said Robert Schmitz, chairman of the Ohio State Racing Commission.

Eric Schippers, Penn’s senior vice president, public affairs and government relations, said the relocation plan has not been finalized.

“This is based on a number of factors, including the optimal use of each site from a design and layout perspective. As mentioned earlier, the relocation is dependent on the authorization of Video Lottery Terminals, and we’re taking a deliberate approach at this point given the pending litigation.”

Schippers referred to a lawsuit filed in Franklin County on Oct. 21 by Ohio Roundtable, a conservative public policy organization that has fought gambling proposals in Ohio since 1988. Ohio Roundtable contends the Ohio Lottery Commission’s operation of racetrack slot machines violates the Ohio Constitution and Ohio rule of law.

Schmitz said Penn’s change of plans may be a question of “what fits where.”

The Dayton site, the former Delphi plant at the corner of Needmore and Wagner Ford roads is about 125 acres. The Youngstown site encompasses 186 acres. Thoroughbred tracks are typically one mile, while harness racing tracks in Ohio range from a half mile to five-eighths of a mile, Schmitz said.

“Some people like harness racing. Some people like thoroughbred. It’s a preference,” Schmitz said.

Shelley Dickstein, Dayton’s assistant city manager for strategic development, said she was initially disappointed at the change.

“Penn did reassure us that not only would the investment stay the same, but the number of jobs and salaries would be the same,” Dickstein said. “Harness racing isn’t as sexy and exciting — for lack of a better way to put it — but from an economic development standpoint, it will still be a good investment for the community.”

Penn National has said the racinos will each cost about $200 million to build and will create 1,000 construction jobs.

They say 1,500 people will be employed directly or indirectly through suppliers and vendors at each facility. According to rules tentatively adopted by the Ohio Lottery Commission on Dec. 19, the facility could be open 24 hours every day of the week and have a maximum of 2,500 slot machines.

There are four harness racing facilities in Ohio: Sciota Downs near Columbus; the Toledo Raceway; Northfield Park outside Cleveland; and the Lebanon Raceway, compared to three thoroughbred tracks. The sport also is a popular event at 65 Ohio county fairs each summer, including Montgomery County.

“There is going to be some opposition from other racetracks (to the location change),” Jerry Knappenberger, general manager of the Ohio Horseman’s Association said of the change. “We will try to make it work.”

Owners of Lebanon Raceway, a harness racing facility, in nearby Warren County could not be reached for comment Thursday. They are considering purchasing state-owned land to build a racino near Interstate 75, just outside of Monroe.

If the new track comes to fruition, between 700 and 1,000 part- and full-time jobs could be created from the projected $175 million investment in the county.

Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2000 or josmith@DaytonDailyNews.com.


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