Hard-Hat Tour Shows Racino in ‘Home Stretch’

AUSTINTOWN, Ohio -- Mike Galle relied on racing terminology, appropriately enough, in describing the state of preparations for getting the new Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course ready to open this fall.

“We’re really in the home stretch,” the racino’s general manager remarked. “That’s why you see the crews ramping up. That’s why you see the progress in the course of a couple weeks. It gets done quickly from this point on.”

Ground was broken 13 months ago on the new Penn National Gaming Inc. facility, which will cost $250 million between construction, licenses and transfer fees. 

Members of the building trades -- carpentry, electrical and flooring among them -- were busy throughout the 100,000-square-foot building Monday, as local elected officials and reporters were given a hard-hat tour. Galle led the group throughout the 1930s-themed art deco building, from the gaming floor where hundreds of video lottery terminals await installation, to the viewing area for racing and multiple dining areas to the back office space and delivery areas.

Galle repeatedly offered assurances that Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course would open this fall. “We’re very comfortable saying early fall of 2014,” he said, although he declined to be more specific.

“Just so you know how quickly construction is going, there was no carpet in here two weeks ago. There was no wallpaper on the walls two weeks ago,” he said. “The progress that [contractors have] made is very substantial. That’s why we’re very confident saying an early fall opening.”

Bases for the VLTs are due to arrive Friday, and installation of the devices will begin Monday, he said. Some 700 of the 850 VLTs the racino will open with in the 25,000-square-foot gaming space are on site already. 

“We can expand quite rapidly,” Galle said.  “We’re going into it trying to make sure that we have the number of [VLTs] we need based on market demand but if demand is higher than we anticipated, we could expand rapidly.” Another 100 terminals can be added without physically expanding the space, and 5,000 square feet of space can be added if demand dictates, he said, enabling the building to accommodate up to 1,500 VLTs.

Screens measuring 40 feet long by 12 feet high around the main floor will show movie trailers and ads. Movie posters hanging throughout the property will further reflect the Hollywood theme. “If you look at our branding at our outlets, we found this Hollywood brand works very well in the communities,” Galle said. 

In the grandstand area, where patrons on two levels will be able to watch the live racing set to begin on the track Nov. 24, Galle expressed his enthusiasm for the “gorgeous view” view of the track it will afford. The tree line at the rear of the track in the spring and fall will provide “a beautiful backdrop” for the track, he remarked. The enclosed grandstand will have direct track-view seating for 160 patrons and 1,001 seats throughout.

Screens will simulcast racing night from races around North America, said Mark Loewe, vice president for Ohio racing operations for Penn National. “Wherever they’re racing, we’ll be able to show those races and the patrons in the building will be able to wager on those races,” he said.

Plans call for using the lower level of the racing area during non–race season for banquets, business meetings and potentially small acoustic groups or comedians who would appear in addition to acts performing on the main stage.

Dining options include the second-level Skybox Sports Bar, which Galle characterized as a “sports bar on steroids.” In addition to offering slightly more upscale American dining options along with traditional bar foods, the venue will feature large glass screens onto which television images will be projected. “It’s a very interesting feature that we’ve added to a number of our properties,” he said. The three-restaurant food court on the main level, which the plan now is to operate around the clock, will offer Italian, burgers and similar fare, and coffee and pastry options. 

The facility will serve 3,000 to 5,000 patrons daily, Galle said. “So we’re going to be servicing a small community a day,” he remarked. Following two job fairs last month, hiring is around 60% complete for supervisory positions and above, and for the remaining positions about 40% completed.

Local officials on hand for the tour came away impressed.

“It’s even more impressive than I had anticipated. My wife and I get an opportunity to stop at quite a few casinos and racinos and this is amazing,” said Mahoning County commissioner David Ditzler, who was an Austintown Township trustee when the project was announced more than three years ago. “”I know that Penn [National] is really pleased with how the community has embraced the racino coming in here.”

Ditzler acknowledged he was concerned that the increased seating the Ohio State Racing Commission mandated on the racing side would diminish the gaming section but said it hadn’t. “It’s every bit as impressive as I hoped it would be,” he remarked.

“It just gives you chills to walk into this place,” Township Trustee Jim Davis said. “It’s absolutely beautiful.”

The township already has benefited from the $2 million lump sum payment Penn National made, and related investment taking place throughout the community. “It’s given new life to Austintown and it’s given new life to the entire Mahoning Valley with the jobs it’s brought,” Davis said.

The trustee anticipates further development along the Route 46 corridor. “I really didn’t anticipate anybody doing anything right off the get go until this got here,” he said. “Don’t be surprised if you hear some information maybe November, early December.”

Pictured: Mike Galle, general manager of the new Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course, points to the gaming area where video lottery terminals await installation.

Copyright 2014 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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