Austintown Twp.: As a young boy, township Trustee Jim Davis got goose bumps as he traveled with his uncle to the Mountaineer racetrack in West Virginia for the first time.
He was that excited to watch the horses run.
Davis got the same feeling Thursday driving to a ceremonial groundbreaking for the $125 million Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course coming to his community.
The gambling venue, expected to open in mid-2014, will feature up to 1,500 slots-like video lottery terminals, dining, a sports bar, one-mile thoroughbred horse track and 1,000-seat, enclosed grandstand.
“There’s not a day that goes by that my phone doesn’t ring with a question about this project,” Davis said. “People are just so excited to have something new come to the Mahoning Valley and this is just going to be huge.”
Penn National Gaming Inc., based in Wyomissing, Pa., held the groundbreaking with politicians such as U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Niles, business leaders and unions — all of whom talked about the economic development for the Youngstown area.
The company also held a similar event earlier in the day for its new Hollywood Gaming at Dayton Raceway in Dayton.
“We’re all ready to rock,” said Don Crane of the Western Reserve Ohio Building & Construction Trades Council in Youngstown. “Our members are all ready to hurt their arms pulling slot machines and bet on horses.”
The racino — located just south of Interstate 80 and about 45 minutes from downtown Akron — is expected to create 1,000 construction jobs, and 500 to 600 permanent jobs at the facility.
It will feature a similar Hollywood theme seen at Penn National’s two Ohio casinos in Columbus and Toledo. That motif is heavy on old Hollywood glamour and movie stars.
Unlike casinos, racinos offer only VLTs and not table games like blackjack and poker. To the average gambler, the VLTs look and play like slot machines.
Penn National President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Wilmott praised the Austintown location during his remarks.
“We believe in this part of Northeast Ohio,” he said to enthusiastic applause.
Wilmott pledged to buy local products and hire local workers as much as possible.
In addition to investing $125 million in the venue itself, he noted, the company is paying the state $75 million to be able to move Beulah Park from Columbus to Austintown and an additional $50 million for a VLT license.
Penn National has a similar financial deal for the Dayton project.
Overall, Penn National is investing more than $1.2 billion in its two Ohio casinos and racinos, he said. The company operates 22 casinos and 11 racetracks in the U.S. and Canada.
Eric Shippers, Penn National senior vice president of public affairs and government relations, said the Mahoning Valley racino will draw visitors from a 60-mile radius.
“Akron will be an important market for us,” he said.
Northeast Ohio is getting crowded with gambling sites. The Horseshoe Casino Cleveland and ThistleDown Racino are already open, and the Hard Rock Rocksino at Northfield Park is expected to debut in December in Northfield.
ThistleDown also has an option with the state to relocate to the Akron-Canton area.
Each market is distinct but there will be some competition for gamblers, Shippers said.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org.