ThistleDown Racino in North Randall to invest $1 million in upgrades to racing floor

NORTH RANDALL, Ohio - The $88 million transformation of Thistledown Race Track into ThistleDown Racino focused almost entirely on turning the track's 57,000-square-foot racing floor into a modern casino.

If you wanted to see what it used to look like you only needed to venture upstairs to the fourth floor, where the horse racing operations moved last year. There the 1950s-cafeteria-like feel of the track was on display, the video monitors used to watch races simulcast from tracks around the country were a mix of flat screens and older tube TVs in various colors and sizes.

That is changing as track owner Rock Ohio Caesars recently began a $1 million renovation project to update the racing floor.

The technology upgrades include the installation of more than 150 HD high-definition, 60-inch flat screen monitors to televise live ThistleDown and simulcast races.  John Harris of Cleveland likes that and what having the racino on the first floor has meant to the track.

"I think that was a great thing for this building because it was going down fast and now it's taking a turn for the better and I'm grateful," Harris said.

Crews are also working to make the space look and feel more like the racino floor below updating the lighting and installing custom-made Fathead murals depicting favorite moments in ThistleDowns 89-year history.  

In addition, the fourth floor quick-serve eatery, Steaks and Rings, will also receive a facelift.

"These technology updates and design enhancements are another way to embrace and preserve the traditional racing elements at Thistledown while modernizing the facility for both racing and gaming guests," said Rick Skinner, ThistleDown Racino general manager.

Skinner said the work is scheduled to be complete by the July 27 running of the Ohio Derby. This year marks the 79th running of the track's signature race.

The investment brings to more than $89 million that has been pumped into the track since Caesars purchased the property at auction in 2010 for $43 million.

As part of the agreement with the state clearing the way for racinos property owners are required to invest $150 million into their properties. Even with the $25 million maximum credit for the value of the present property Rock Ohio Caesars would still need to invest an additional $35 million if they stay in North Randall.

Rock  has until June, 2014 to decide whether to move the track out of Cuyahoga County to an area in between Akron and Canton. Rock would have to pay the state an additional $25 million if it decides to move. Skinnner said Tuesday the improvements are not an indication of any decision, just work that needed to be done.

"We've done such a great job from the feedback with the feel of the (gaming) floor that we really needed to give a little love to the fourth floor," said Skinner. "As far as moving I'm sure more information will be coming out in the coming months about what the future for ThistleDown is."

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