Ohio House Passes Racetrack Relocation Bill

A racetrack relocation bill passed the Ohio House of Representatives June 23.

The Ohio House of Representatives June 23 passed legislation authorizing the relocation of racetracks that are eligible for video lottery terminal licenses.

The bill doesn’t mention specific racetracks or prospective locations, but it’s clearly designed for Penn National Gaming Inc., which has expressed interest in relocating Beulah Park near Columbus and Raceway Park in Toledo. PNGI is building full-scale casinos in those cities and believes racetracks with VLTs would cannibalize business.

The Columbus area has two racetracks. Scioto Downs, a harness facility, is owned by MTR Gaming Group and also would be eligible for a VLT license should a plan by Republican Gov. John Kasich not get tied up in court.

Kasich, through agreements with PNGI and Rock Ohio Caesars, which is building casinos in Cincinnati and Cleveland, authorized the Ohio Lottery Commission to issue VLT licenses to racetracks. Whether that will occur remains to be seen given claims by public policy groups the VLT directive violates Ohio law.

The racetrack relocation bill quickly passed on a 77-17 vote and heads to the state Senate. The Toledo Blade newspaper reported that many House members in northwestern Ohio, where Raceway Park is located, opposed the legislation in part because that region of the state would be left without a racetrack.

The bill authorizes the Ohio State Racing Commission to consider requests for license transfers. It says the OSRC “shall give preference to transfer proposals involving moves to locations in which neither horse-racing meetings nor casino gaming have been authorized before July 1, 2011.”

The bill further states a racetrack owner could “operate (VLTs) at a temporary facility at its new location while constructing or otherwise preparing its new track at that location.”

PNGI has targeted the Youngstown area in northeastern Ohio for the Raceway Park harness license and the Dayton area north of Cincinnati for the Beulah Park license. Officials at Lebanon Raceway, a harness track, have said they could move to the Dayton area and therefore would challenge any racetrack relocation.