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Lawmakers hear testimony on racino

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AUSTINTOWN, Ohio - The future of the Mahoning Valley Race Course and Casino was the only topic at the meeting of the Ohio Senate Workforce and Economic Development Committe in Austintown on Wednesday.

To look at the building site you would think that the racino project is well underway. However, construction is on hold pending final approval of a license transfer by the Ohio Racing Commission.

It's members have asked Penn National Gaming to submit a new plan that includes more indoor climate-controlled seating for race fans and that means redesigning the facility.

"That creates a situation where you have to go back to the architects and engineers, we have to look at the costs, we have evaluate the fisibility of what their asking," said Penn National spokesman Bob Tenenbaum.

The committee also heard from representatives of the racing industry, the people who own, train and race the horses. They say the current plan for 500 horse stalls is inadequate and the facility is lacking amenities for racing fans, such as clubhouse dining.

"We think clubhouse dining is vital, that's what the majority of racing fans are looking for today," said Dave Basler of the Ohio Horsemen Association. 

While these issues could delay the project by four to six months, Penn National says they are not insurmountable.

"We have a lot of confidence that these issues will be worked out," Tenenbaum said.

The committee also heard overwhelming support for the benefits of the project from the area building trades council, the chamber of commerce, hotel operators and restaurant owners. But the decision is not the workforce committees to make. The racing commission still has the final say.

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