Bid for Ohio Racetrack Raises Rival's Eyebrows

by John Kady

The owner of Beulah Park in Grove City, Ohio, said he is surprised at the bid made for the purchase of neighboring Scioto Downs.

Charlie Ruma was an unsuccessful bidder for Scioto, a Standardbred track in Columbus that is set to go to MTR Gaming, owner of Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort, under the terms of a "merger agreement." MTR Gaming agreed to pay $19.1 million for Scioto, which has lost money the past several years.

"We thought we had made an offer that was as good or better than anyone," Ruma said, "but $32 a share is unbelievable. Maybe they want to buy Beulah Park, too."

Ruma said he wanted to purchase Scioto and combine it with Beulah, a Thoroughbred track. He said there is room for only one racetrack in central Ohio. The tracks, located about 15 minutes apart, split the local simulcasting market.

Still, Ruma said he and other Beulah officials "are going to make sure that we act like we have with Scioto Downs, which has been to be good friends and neighbors."

During the past year the tracks have had an agreement by which Beulah offers simulcasting during the day, and Scioto at night. Beulah has live racing from mid-September until the first week in May, while Scioto races live from May through September.

A spokesman for the Ohio Racing Commission said Scioto is not the only track losing money. "It's a national thing with the economy in general," said Cliff Nelson, executive director of the commission. "It also could be there are other avenues for people to spend those wagering dollars."

MTR Gaming apparently is willing to bet the $19.1-million purchase price that Ohio will eventually legalize video slot machines at its seven racetracks. An attempt to legalize slots fell short in the Ohio General Assembly's last session because of opposition from Gov. Bob Taft.

The state is facing a huge budget deficit, and supporters believe they can get the legislation passed in the upcoming session of the legislature, which begins Jan.6.