Several people watch races in one of the off-track betting areas at Raceway Park.
COLUMBUS -- The tradition of horse-racing in Toledo could come to an end as soon as 2014 as track and casino interests collide.
Penn National Gaming Inc., the Pennsylvania-based player behind Hollywood Casino Toledo, has asked the Ohio Lottery Commission to approve a track slots parlor for Raceway Park -- at the same time it asked the Ohio State Racing Commission to allow it to move that harness-racing track to Dayton.
When the move is complete, the track will be renamed Hollywood Slots at Dayton Raceway, dropping any pretense that the devices inside are not slot machines. The state had authorized the parlors as an extension of the state lottery, making the distinction that they were computer-interlinked "video lottery terminals" as opposed to traditional slot machines.
Penn determined that its 24-hour casino in East Toledo, which opened in May, and a track slots parlor just nine miles away would compete for the same players.
The coming move will bring an end to Raceway Park, which first opened in 1949 for stock car racing and was licensed as a horse track in 1958. In its prime, 6,000 Raceway fans would arrive on weekends and wagers could exceed as much as $250,000.
Toledo City Councilman Lindsay Webb, who represents District 6 where the North Toledo track is located, still believes local voters may have reacted differently to the casino ballot question in 2009 -- which allowed for Hollywood Casino Toledo -- if they'd known at the time it would mean the end to horse-racing in the city.
But now attention has turned to what to do with the land.
"Clearly, even just the waiting for this decision has had an adverse impact on the business areas adjacent to the racetrack, the bars and restaurants," she said. "We've seen one bar closed. Another changed hands. …
"It's a unique site," she said. "It's often hard to get access to that large acreage inside the city limits. It's essentially green space, 90 acres available for development with a little bit of work. Across the street is North Towne [Square] mall," she said. "That's going to be demolished this year. There's another 88-acre facility with very little environmental remediation necessary, both in short order."
She said the sites would be perfect for light industrial use and might benefit from their close proximity to the expanding Jeep plant.
Once the raceway's license is moved, a new racetrack could not move onto the former Raceway Park site. State law generally prohibits the location of another gambling operation within 50 miles of Penn's Hollywood Casino Toledo.
Penn also plans to move its Beulah Park track in Grove City south of Columbus to the Youngstown area to get it out of the way of its new Hollywood Casino Columbus that will open this fall.
"We will spend the first 30 days reviewing [the application] to make sure all of the information that is supposed to be there is there," lottery spokesman Marie Kilbane said. "Once all is set, we'll ask for the $10 million filing fee" for each track.
Penn will ultimately pay a total of $50 million to the lottery commission -- the $10 million filing fee, $15 million more when the first slot machines start taking in money, and then $25 million more after one year of operation -- for each slots license.
It will also pay $75 million to the racing commission to relocate each track.
Penn plans to install up to 1,500 slot machines at each track. State law currently allows up to 2,500. Penn has 2,000 at its new Toledo casino. So far, Scioto Downs in Columbus is the sole licensed track slots parlor.
"We are hopeful we can receive state approval in a timely manner, allowing us to break ground this fall on the new facilities in the Mahoning Valley and in Dayton," said Tim Wilmott, Penn president and chief operating officer.
Penn had been waiting for the legal clouds to clear surrounding lawmakers' decision to authorize slots parlors as an extension of the state lottery without first putting the question to voters. The atmosphere cleared a bit in late May when a Franklin County Common Pleas Court judge dismissed a lawsuit, but that decision is now under appeal.
"Clearly, that was an issue for the state," said Penn spokesman Bob Tenenbaum. "The lottery commission, racing commission, and casino commission were all defendants. Our sense now is that the state is ready to move forward."
Penn said it plans to keep operating Raceway Park in its current location until it has completed construction of a new $125 million racetrack/slots parlor on a 125-acre site of a former Delphi Automotive plant in north Dayton.
Recently passed legislation regulating the casinos and "racinos" requires the state to set aside $12 million to help the current hosts of the abandoned tracks to demolish the structures and repurpose the land.
"We have told the city -- and we've met with them several times -- that they should determine what the best redevelopment of that land is, and that we would work with them in whatever way we could to bring that about," Mr. Tenenbaum said.
Rep. Louis Blessing (R., Cincinnati), the law's sponsor, said the money would come from the $75 million-per-track relocation fees. Once the city of Toledo decides what it wants to do with the property, it could ask for a slice of the $12 million pie.
"I haven't heard from Toledo, but Grove City would love to have some of that to bring in a business," he said. "What they're thinking of doing is using the money for infrastructure to make it more attractive to a business. It might be clean-up, infrastructure, or whatever a community needs."
The $12 million pie could potentially be split three ways. In addition to the two Penn tracks, Rock Ohio Caesar's is considering moving Thistledown to the Akron area to reduce direct competition of its slots parlor with its newly opened Horseshoe Casino in downtown Cleveland.
Contact Jim Provance at: email@example.com or 614-221-0496.
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