Thistledown to Install VLTs; Move Possible

The owner of Thistledown near Cleveland said June 6 it has a memorandum of understanding with the State of Ohio to install video lottery terminals at the racetrack, but also reserves the right to move the racing and gaming operation to an untapped market.

Rock Ohio Caesars in a release said the non-binding agreement with Republican Gov. John Kasich calls for payment of a $50 million license fee to install and operate VLTs at Thistledown through the Ohio Lottery Commission. Whether the gaming operation is temporary or not remains to be seen.

The memorandum of understanding also allows Rock Ohio Caesars, whose principals are Rock Gaming and Caesars Entertainment, to build a racetrack casino in the Akron-Canton area, which currently has no racing or gaming. The company would have to pay a $25 million relocation fee and spend at least $150 million on the facility.

Rock Ohio Caesars owns a full-scale casino in downtown Cleveland that opened in May. The company has said it could relocate Thistledown to avoid competition between the two properties.

A third area track—Northfield Park, a harness facility—has a deal with Hard Rock to develop a VLT and entertainment facility. Northfield, located about 15 minutes south of Thistledown, has not yet applied for a VLT license.

“We appreciate the sustained efforts by the governor’s office, the administration, and the entire legislature to holistically examine and define the state’s gaming landscape,” said John Payne, Caesars president of enterprise shared services. “We’re in the preliminary stages of redesigning Thistledown’s grandstand to accommodate VLTs and update other features of the facility.”

Officials said the VLTs could begin operating in the spring of 2013.

As for a relocation of the racing license, Payne said: “A new location is something we are contemplating, but in the meantime we are excited to invest in Thistledown to make it a multi-faceted entertainment destination in northeast Ohio.”

Thistledown would get a permanent VLT license should Rock Ohio Caesars decide not to move the facility.

Rock Ohio Caesars is also building a full-scale casino in Cincinnati that is scheduled to open in 2013.

The first VLT parlor in Ohio opened June 1 at Scioto Downs, a Columbus harness track. According to reports about 25,000 people visited the facility the first three days it was open.

Still outstanding is a possible appeal by the Ohio Roundtable, a public policy group, of the 2011 law that legalized racetrack VLTs. A judge recently dismissed the group’s challenge but it could be appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.

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