NORTH RANDALL, Ohio - Live horse racing returns to ThistleDown Racino this Friday, April 18 for the start of the 122-day racing season that runs through November 16.
The addition of video lottery terminals and the commitment to pay 10.5 percent of VLT revenue to purses means the daily take at the track will average around $100,000. That’s about a 25 percent increase over last year and more than double the daily purses awarded in 2012.
The track's premium race of the season will be the Ohio Derby on July 19. The 2014 Ohio Derby purse has been tripled to $300,000 this year, which is expected to draw a wider field of horses and trainers from across the country.
ThistleDown’s owners, Rock Ohio Caesars, have some important decisions to make before then about the 89-year-old track. They have two months to decide whether to stay in North Randall or move south to an area near the Akron-Canton Airport.
If they move they have to pay the state a $25 million fee, buy a property and build a track and racino.
If they stay they have to invest an additional $35 million into the operation, that’s because the agreement with the state to allow VLTs at the Ohio’s horse racing tracks requires a $150 million investment, with up to $25 million in credit allowed for the value of the existing facilities and land.
Rock Ohio Caesars pumped around $88 million into the 1950’s grandstand to convert the main floor into a 57,000 square foot gaming space as well as other upgrades.
The track put an additional $1 million into new high definition televisions in the horse racing area last summer including the installation of more than 150 HD, 60-inch flat screen monitors.
Caesars purchased the property at auction in 2010 for $43 million.
To this point, the racino has made no indication of how they are leaning. Ohio State Racing Commission Chairman Robert Schmitz said he has not yet heard from Rock Ohio about a move and the racino has not announced any major improvement plans for the track.
Moving would allow ThistleDown to tap into a new portion of the gaming market and possibly send some of those slots/VLT Total Rewards customers who left Horseshoe when the racino opened, back downtown.
The flipside, beyond the expense, is there’s no guarantee that Horseshoe would be the beneficiary of those North Randall customers given the closeness of the Hard Rock Rocksino in nearby Northfield which opened in December.
ThistleDown doesn’t have the frills of the brand new built from the ground up Hard Rock but the success of Ohio’s now outlawed internet cafes, many of them set up in storefronts with darkened windows, showed there is a large gaming population that doesn’t need a whole lot of flash.
ThistleDown took a hit when Hard Rock Rocksino opened with its January numbers dipping to $8.9 million, a 33 percent drop from the racino’s all-time high in November of $13.3 million.
In February and March though those numbers began to rebound with the racino bringing in $10 million and $10.6 million respectively in those months and the slots numbers of sister property Horseshoe Cleveland also improved, though still down over 2013 when it had no competition.
The Hard Rock Rocksino also watched its numbers grow during those months bringing in $13.2 million in February and $15.8 million in March.
Combined the slots/VLT revenue of the three properties was a record $38.2 million in March up 12.6 percent from February’s previous high and up 53.8 percent from November, the last full month before Hard Rock Rocksino opened showing the market has grown.
ThistleDown also continues to lead the state’s eight casinos/racinos in the amount of money they bring in each day per machine at $298 in March with the newly opened Miami Valley Gaming racino the closest competitor with a daily take of $234 per machine.
Hard Rock Rocksino and Horseshoe Cleveland each brought in $227 per machine each day in March.