ThistleDown Racino nears its April 9 opening, work continues on track's $88-million transformation

NORTH RANDALL, Ohio - ThistleDown Racino may not open until April 9, but that's not to say they aren't already seeing the crowds.

Drive by the North Randall track on any given day and you'll find more cars in the 2,400-space parking lot then you'd see on many live racing days in years past.

They belong to the construction workers putting the finishing touches on the $88-million transformation, as well as the new employees showing up for training. There are also the simulcast racing patrons, who a year ago had the place to themselves.

[PHOTOS: Inside the new ThistleDown Racino http://bit.ly/Y2hhss ]

The horse betting operations have been moved to the track's fourth floor with the second-floor space it previously occupied transformed into a 57,000 square foot racino.

As construction workers finish up the new covered entranceway, the new employees funnel into an entrance on the track's west side. A steady flow here to fill out paperwork or begin training for the jobs they'll soon hold.

"We obviously have extensive customer service training that we put all of our employees through," said track general manager Rick Skinner.

"But then there's all our operational training too, on how to pay a jackpot and making sure our beverage servers are doing a great job and our drop team does a great job. It's all of the hands-on training that's really, really kicking into gear now. "

Skinner said the track received around 17,000 applications for the more than 700 jobs.

"We've been working with the Ohio Lottery Commission," Skinner said. "Getting our internal controls set up, all our standard operating procedures."

In addition to all that goes into getting the racino portion open to the public, preparations are under way for the start of the live racing season 10 days later on April 19.

"The timing will work well so that we can be up and running a little bit before the beginning of the live racing season," Skinner said.

The addition of slots means the track is able to up the purses, which means the first horses already starting to arrive will have more company this year.

 "We've already seen a much heightened demand for stall applications compared to prior years," Skinner said. "So we're excited for what's going to happen, not only here on the second floor of ThistleDown with the opening of the racino, but also with live horse racing coming back on the 19th."

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