NORTH RANDALL, Ohio - Before the doors even opened at ThistleDown Racino Tuesday night, the parking lot was nearly full and would-be gamblers stood more than a hundred deep waiting to get into the North Randall track.
Once inside, the task became finding an open machine as almost all of the 1,150 terminals were quickly filled.
Most praised the $88 million transformation of what was the track's main 57,000 square foot gaming floor.
"It's everything I kind of thought," said James Flowers of Warrensville Heights. "Maybe a little bit more than what I thought - it's pretty nice," he said.
A lot of those out for this opening night were east siders who welcomed the convenience of having gambling so close.
"I'm five minutes away from here so I can win and jump over the fence and go back home," said Emma Robinson of Warrensville Heights.
Debbie Turner of North Royalton thinks west siders won't hesitate to make the trip.
"Oh I love it, it's a lot of fun. I'm glad to see so many people here today," said Turner. "And it's good for the city."
Thistledown has weathered many storms in its 88-year horse racing history.
There was the depression, several recessions, prohibition, World War II, a fire in 1944 that destroyed the grandstand and a half dozen ownership changes.
In the face of each, the North Randall track survived to round a corner and write a new chapter, one that for a time after the state approved slots for Ohio's seven horse racing tracks, appeared might be written somewhere else.
The agreement included language that cleared the way for Penn National to move their tracks in Columbus and Toledo to Youngstown and Dayton and for Thistledown to possibly relocate to an area near the Akron-Canton Airport.
While moving is still a possibility, Thistledown owner Rock Ohio Caesars made the decision last June to give the North Randall property a chance to succeed.
"I tell everyone of our team members we're not just turning the page to tomorrow here at Thistle we're writing a whole new chapter which is the future," said Racino General Manager Rick Skinner.