River Downs

River Downs

Courtesy River Downs

Pinnacle Confirms $45M Deal for River Downs

Pinnacle Entertainment has confirmed it will buy River Downs in Ohio.

Las Vegas-based Pinnacle Entertainment confirmed Nov. 26 it has a deal to purchase River Downs near Cincinnati, Ohio, for $45 million.

The sale is expected to close in the first quarter of 2011, officials with the casino company said. River Downs will become the company’s first racetrack acquisition.

The Blood-Horse reported Oct. 21 the track had been sold to Pinnacle, but officials on either side of the deal wouldn’t comment. During an Oct. 28 conference call on earnings, Pinnacle officials said they planned to expand their holdings but again wouldn’t confirm the River Downs purchase.

“The proposed acquisition of River Downs is consistent with our strategy to thoughtfully deploy our solid balance sheet for return-focused growth opportunities,” Pinnacle president and chief executive officer Anthony Sanfilippo said in a statement. “The transaction positions Pinnacle to benefit from the possible legalization of video lottery terminals at Ohio’s racetracks and, with the facility’s metropolitan Cincinnati location, we believe River Downs offers an excellent complement to our nearby Belterra Casino Resort in Indiana, while also further diversifying our operating base.

“River Downs has enjoyed a rich heritage in the heart of the horse racing community in Ohio and along the Kentucky border. We look forward to building on this heritage and enhancing the operations of the facility. If VLTs are allowed in Ohio, Pinnacle will revitalize River Downs as a unique gaming entertainment destination in Cincinnati, which will drive the creation of new full-time jobs while generating new tax revenue for the state and local community.

“Given our financial liquidity profile and property development experience, we are prepared to move quickly on the creation of a new gaming entertainment facility at the track.”

Pinnacle’s Belterra casino is one of three gaming halls on the Ohio River in Indiana southwest of Cincinnati and north of Kentucky.

Pinnacle will buy River Downs with cash. The price is comparable to those paid for two other Ohio tracks—Beulah Park near Columbus and Thistledown near Cleveland—purchased by casino companies this year.

A plan for the Ohio Lottery to install VLTs at the state’s seven tracks under a directive by Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland has languished for more than a year. Republican Gov.-elect John Kasich said his administration will study the plan and decide whether to move ahead with it.

Ohio voters already approved four full-scale casinos, one each in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, and Toledo. None is close to opening, however.

The River Downs deal includes 155 acres, 35 of which aren’t developed. The current owners, based in California, had discussed placing gaming machines on the second floor of the track, adding a third floor, or building a casino across the street on land they own.