One by one on Thursday, supporters touted the potential economic boost a new racino in Austintown would bring to the Valley.
“I see the Mahoning Avenue/Route 46 corridor as a destination point for not just Austintown, but for the entire area. Added people means added dollars for our community,” said George Berick of Lakeside Realty.
Members of the Senate Workforce and Development Committee, including State Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-Boardman, were at the Austintown Township Hall on Thursday to hear firsthand about the Hollywood Slots at the Mahoning Valley Racecourse project planned by Penn National Gaming, which has been delayed in a dispute with the Ohio Racing Commission over the number of seats for race fans and other concerns.
Penn National had planned to start construction this month.
“This area needs Penn National for the people. Jobs, businesses and economic boost to the area outweighs the few permanent seats that they’re asking for,” said Ken Jakubec, owner of the Quaker Steak & Lube on Route 46.
“We’re talking about jobs that would send their kids to YSU and Eastern Gateway Community College. And have benefits to pay any kind of health care,” said Don Crane, president of the Western Reserve Building Trades union.
But not all in the crowd were happy with Penn National’s plans.
“I’ve been racing thoroughbreds for a little over 20 years. And in all my years of racing, I’ve never seen a facility as the one proposed by Penn National Gaming,” said horse trainer Robin Schuster.
Besides the issues with seating, members of the Ohio Horseman’s Association complain the proposal doesn’t include dorm facilities for jockeys and only has about 500 horse stalls, which is far short of what they think will be needed.
“I’m confident that when we get this place up and running, we’ll have stall applications for over 2,000 horses. Ideally, the number of stalls here would be about 1,500,” said Dave Basler of the Ohio Horseman’s Association.
A spokesman said the company would like to have permission to start building right away with a provision for additional seats and other facilities to be added later if needed. The Ohio Racing Commission will meet next week, but at this point the Austintown racino project is not on the agenda.