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Anne M. Eberhardt

Ohio Racetracks Seem Confident on VLT Program

Ohio racetrack owners seem fairly confident racetrack VLTs will become reality.

A gaming and racing company with interests in Ohio said it believes a 2009 governor’s directive for racetracks to install video lottery terminals can move ahead.

MTR Gaming Group, which owns Scioto Downs, a harness track just south of Columbus, issued a statement the week of June 28 after the group pulled a racetrack VLT referendum that had been set for November. Once a ballot measure is removed, it can’t be reinstated.

The referendum had been sought as a challenge to Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland’s order that the Ohio Lottery run VLTs that would be installed at the state’s seven tracks. The VLT order, issued to generate revenue for the state, was immediately challenged in court.

“We are pleased that the referendum petition has been withdrawn,” Robert Griffin, president and chief executive officer of MTR Gaming Group, said in a statement. “We believe the 2009 executive order approved by the Ohio legislature enabling video lottery terminals at the state’s racetracks can now move forward.”

Others in Ohio horse racing have said the same thing, but Strickland has said he would proceed cautiously because of an “outstanding constitutional issue,” the Columbus Dispatch reported.

In a July 1 statement making official its purchase of Beulah Park, also near Columbus, Penn National Gaming Inc. president and CEO Peter Carlino said the deal gives the company "a second opportunity to benefit from the possible legalization of VLTs at Ohio’s seven racetracks."

PNGI also owns Raceway Park, a Toledo harness track, and expects to build full-scale casinos in Columbus and Toledo made possible by a 2009 statewide referendum. 

The 2009 plan called for 2,500 machines at each track with the state receiving 50% of gross revenue. Strickland’s order didn’t say how the other 50% would be spent, though it was assumed the tracks would get it.

There were no provisions for purses or breed development programs in last year’s directive. The tracks and horsemen were left to negotiate and, when the plan stalled late last summer, hadn’t reached an agreement, an issue that surely will resurface should the VLT program progress this year.

MTR Gaming Group also owns Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort in West Virginia and Presque Isle Downs & Casino in Pennsylvania. Both draw customers from Ohio.