Central Ohio Track First to Get VLT License

The gaming parlor at Scioto Downs is expected to open in the second quarter of 2012.

A central Ohio racetrack is the first of seven tracks in the state to receive a license to install and operate video lottery terminals.

Scioto Downs, a Columbus-area harness track owned by MTR Gaming Group, received the license from the Ohio Lottery Commission, which will oversee VLTs at racetracks. Construction of a gaming facility began several months ago at Scioto Downs even though a public policy group has sued to overturn legislative approval of racetrack VLTs.

MTR Gaming Group, which also owns Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort in West Virginia and Presque Isle Downs & Casino in Pennsylvania, said late last year it believes the lawsuit will be rejected because the VLT law is on firm legal ground.

The Franklin County Common Pleas Court has set the third week in February for oral arguements on the motion by the Ohio Roundtable to stop the VLT project until a statewide referendum is held. The office of Attorney General Mike DeWine is representing the state.

The license fee paid by Scioto Downs was $10 million, but the permit is temporary. Scioto Downs must pay another $40 million for a full license; VLTs can be installed but will not operate until a permanent permit is issued.

Scioto Downs will start out with 2,125 VLTs; the maximum is 2,500 but tracks can apply for more depending on market demand.

“We are very excited to be granted our Ohio license and have already started construction on a first-class facility that will drive significant long-term stockholder value for the company and over 800 new jobs for Columbus,” MTR Gaming Group president and chief executive officer Jeffrey Dahl said.

Ohio voters in 2009 approved four full-scale casinos, including one in Columbus, but it seems likely Scioto Downs will be the first facility to offer expanded gambling. The gaming room will be enclosed by the end of January, and VLTs could be operating in the second quarter of 2012, officials said.

The gaming parlor and restaurants are being built in front of the racetrack grandstand and will be connected to the clubhouse. Company officials said the racing side “will also benefit from a number of improvements.”

Penn National Gaming Inc. is building the full-scale casino on the west side of Columbus. The company also owns nearby Beulah Park, currently open for live racing and full-card simulcasts. It is expected to ask the Ohio State Racing Commission for approval to move that license to Dayton, where a new racetrack casino would be built.

John Kady contributed to this story