Talk of Thistledown move to the Akron area remains quiet

CLEVELAND - When the state announced its agreement last June with the owners of Ohio's four new casinos on additional fees they also cleared the way for video lottery terminals or VLT's to come to Ohio's seven racetracks.

It was a move that led to immediate speculation on where many of those racetracks would eventually end up.  Penn National Gaming, owner operators of both casinos and racetracks in Columbus and Toledo made it clear from the start their intention to move their tracks away from their future casinos to sites in Youngstown and Dayton.

Caesars, owner of Thistledown and partners with Dan Gilbert's Rock Ohio on the Horseshoe Casino Cleveland, was not.

"We see it as another exciting facility here and so does Caesars," said Dan Gilbert, at last June's news conference announcing the settlement. "So plans are very sketchy."

Quiet speculation though began almost immediately on the possibility of a Thistledown move south to the Akron area.

The tone of the talk kicked up a notch once the state reached terms with Penn National March 16, on the relocation of its two tracks.

The memorandum of understanding between Penn and the state makes it clear that "no non-Penn related racing permit… VLT or casino style gaming facility may be relocated within a 50 mile radius of the constitutionally-authorized casinos or VLT facilities owned by Penn." The agreement though goes on to make an exception for Thistledown.

"Parties acknowledge the potential relocation of all horse racing permits," it reads, by "Thistledown to the Akron area and agree that these potential VLT racetracks are an exception to the 50 mile radius provision."

Neither Caesars nor the state are saying anything about potential talks.

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

"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.

Thistledown's ties to the Akron area date back to 1959 when then Thistledown owner Edward J. DeBartolo Sr., the Youngstown-based shopping mall developer who would later buy the San Francisco 49ers, purchased the three-quarter mile Ascot Park race track near Akron.

DeBartolo did so, according to a story in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette at the time, to move its 50-day meet to Thistledown where it was renamed it the Summit Racing Club meet.

It would give Thistledown at the time 200 race days with four continuous meets Thistle, Randall, Cranwood and Summit.

Thistledown's 2012 live racing season begins Friday May 4.

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