State clears way for two horse racing tracks to move, fate of Thistledown still undecided

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Penn National Gaming, operators of two of Ohio's seven horse racing tracks, has reached a non-binding agreement with the state to relocate the tracks with the intention of adding video lottery terminals or VLTs.

Penn National in a news release announced they will pay a fee of $75 million per track to the state to move Beulah Park from the Columbus suburb of Grove City to the Youngstown area, and Raceway Park in Toledo to Dayton.

The fees would be in addition to the tracks $50 million licensing fee for the right to install slots. Penn will also invest $150 million in each new racetrack.

Penn is the owner/operator of two of the state's four new casinos in Columbus and Toledo. The track moves to area's of the state that won't have casinos enables them to tap a new market while cutting down on competition near their new gambling halls.

Dan Gilbert's Rock Ohio owns the state's other two casinos in Cleveland and Cincinnati, and will operate them in partnership with Caesar's Entertainment under their Horseshoe brand.

Caesars though is also the owner of nearby Thistledown Racetrack in North Randall. The track has plans to open it's thoroughbred racing season May 4, but is saying little of its plans beyond that at this point.

"We want to use Thistledown," said Caesars Entertainment CEO Gary Loveman during a visit to Cleveland this week.

"We're trying to work out with our partners at Rock exactly how best to do that," he said. Rock Ohio holds an option to purchase part ownership in the track.

"The institutions here in Ohio around how VLTs are going to work remain a little fluent and we're working with them on the best way to proceed with Thistledown," Loveman said.

Penn in there statement said the memorandum of understanding with the state "assumes final authorization of VLTs at Ohio racetracks and a favorable resolution of the current litigation challenging the establishment of VLT facilities in Ohio."

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