by Tom LaMarra and John Kady
It appears Scioto Downs, a harness track in Columbus, will be the first racetrack in Ohio to open its video lottery terminal casino despite an unresolved lawsuit challenging the legality of VLTs.
Track owner MTR Gaming Group announced May 22 it has received a permanent license from the Ohio Lottery Commission to operate VLTs, of which there will be 1,800 at the outset. Company officials in a release said the casino will open at 2 p.m. EDT June 1.
Scioto Downs is the only Ohio racetrack to move ahead with VLTs. The other six tracks are waiting for resolution of a legal challenge to the 2011 law that legalized racetrack VLTs.
The law that gives the lottery commission the power to issue licenses to tracks to install the machines has been challenged in Franklin County Common Pleas Court by the Ohio Roundtable. A decision was expected by late May, but officials have said it could be pushed back to June.
If the decision goes against the racetracks, it will be appealed all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court., said Rocky Saxbe, an attorney for the racetracks. And if the decision upholds the 2011 law, it will be appealed by the Ohio Roundtable, organization spokesman Rob Walgate said.
Bob Schmitz, chairman of the Ohio State Racing Commission, said VLTs have been installed at Scioto Downs and will operate until an order calling for their shutdown is issued by a court.
The state legislature still hasn’t approved a casino cleanup bill that makes provisions for a percentage of VLT revenue to go toward purses and breeding programs. The Senate version of the bill includes the language, but the House of Representatives could make changes.
Scioto Downs opened May 10 for its live race meet, which extends through early September.
“This is a significant achievement for MTR Gaming as Scioto Downs becomes the first of Ohio’s racetracks to be granted a permanent license to operate VLTs in the state,” MTR Gaming Group president and chief executive officer Jeffrey Dahl said May 22. “Next week’s opening of Scioto Downs will be the culmination of an extensive effort, and we want to thank the design and construction crews as well as our MTR Gaming team members for completing the project on schedule and within budget.
“We will also be conducting a ribbon-cutting ceremony on June 19 to thank public officials and to officially welcome our guests to this exciting new gaming and entertainment complex.”