Harrah’s Entertainment has ended up with Thistledown after all, but at a greatly reduced price.
The Las Vegas-based casino company purchased the Ohio racetrack for about $43 million during a May 25 auction in New York, sources close to the situation said. Last year, Harrah’s obtained an option to buy the Cleveland-area track for $89.5 million.
Thistledown has been owned by bankrupt Magna Entertainment Corp. Major MEC assets have been taken over by MI Developments, an affiliated company that opted to move forward with a sale of Thistledown.
Official statements from the seller and buyer weren’t immediately available, nor was information on whether Harrah's has a partner.
Harrah’s had expressed interest in Thistledown based on the prospect of getting video lottery terminals at the track. That possibility appears closer to becoming reality this year; there could be a November referendum if its backers opt to pursue it, or Ohio lawmakers could add VLTs to legislation governing full-scale casino gambling in the state’s four largest cities.
Harrah’s owns other racetracks, including Harrah’s Louisiana Downs in Louisiana, Harrah’s Chester Casino & Racetrack in Pennsylvania, and Players Bluegrass Downs in Kentucky. The company also is a co-owner of Turfway Park in Kentucky.
There has been behind-the-scenes talk of Harrah’s becoming a partner in the casino planned for Cleveland.
With the sale of Thistledown, there will be three Ohio tracks owned by casino companies; the other two are Raceway Park, owned by Penn National Gaming Inc., and Scioto Downs, owned by MTR Gaming Group. Meanwhile, PNGI is working to close a deal to purchase Beulah Park near Columbus.
The other three tracks in the state—River Downs near Cincinnati, Lebanon Raceway between Cincinnati and Dayton, and Northfield Park near Cleveland—are privately owned. Racing industry officials have said, however, they expect all Ohio tracks eventually will be owned by or have partnerships with casino companies.