MTR Gaming Takes Shot at Ohio Casino Bid

MTR Gaming Group on March 12 reported a $17.7 million loss for 2008.

MTR Gaming Group on March 12 reported a $17.7 million loss for 2008, and took a shot at a new Ohio proposal to put slots in casinos.

The company’s annual loss, which followed an $11.4 million loss in 2007, included $12.3 million in impairment and equity charges attributed to Running Aces Harness Park in Minneapolis, Minn., a joint venture in which MTR Gaming holds a 50% interest.

Company president and chief executive officer Robert Griffin said in a statement that MTR Gaming Group “transitioned” from focusing on development in 2008 to “operational efficiencies and … cost containment programs to improve margins.” Included in the restructuring effort of the company was the closing in December of another harness track, Jackson Harness Raceway in Michigan -- which lent to a $2.4 million loss in discontinued operations -- and a 20% reduction in its workforce.

Griffin, who last October replaced longtime MTR Gaming chief Ted Arneault, also said the company drove down its overall debt to $377.6 million, a 10.3% decrease from 2007.

“I am pleased … with our progress in becoming a disciplined operating company,” Griffin said in his opening remarks of a conference call with analysts and investors.

In response to an analyst’s question, Griffin also took opportunity to take a jab at the recent “Ohio Jobs and Growth Plan” voting referendum pitched March 11 that seeks to put slots in casinos located in four large cities – but not in racetracks already existing in the Buckeye State.

“You mean the ‘Lack of Jobs and Growth Committee Proposal’ that came out yesterday?” Griffin responded to the analyst query. “I think it is a flawed proposal. It's not in the best interest of the state of Ohio or its citizens. We would be opposed to anything that didn’t include the racetracks.

“I think any attempt to expand gaming in Ohio beyond the lottery and pari-mutuel industry, it's just going to have a really hard time of passing and getting support,” he added.

MTR Gaming owns Scioto Downs harness track in Columbus, Ohio, as well as two Thoroughbred racinos, Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort in Chester, W. Va; and Presque Isle Downs & Casino in Erie, Pa.

The Ohio Racing Commission said March 11 it is considering its own slots pitch to include pari-mutuel facilities.

Griffin also said the company has frozen salaries of more than $40,000 and believes employee layoffs in December and January are sufficient. “We don’t see a need to reduce our workforce any further,” he said.

For the fourth quarter of 2008, the company reported a loss from continuing operations of $4.2 million, compared to a loss of $7.7 million during the same period of 2007.

Shares of MTR Gaming closed March 12 trading at $1.19, up 3.5%.