Sunday, Apr 22, 2018
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Toledo could hit gaming jackpot as proposals push casinos, slots

COLUMBUS - Penn National Gaming could be in line to hit the jackpot. And Toledo could be in line to be host to upward of 10,000 slot machines.

The Pennsylvania-based owner of the Toledo harness-racing track is playing its hand with a proposed ballot issue for November to authorize four Las Vegas-style casinos at sites in East Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati.

On the other side of the table is the Ohio State Racing Commission and racing industry, which is independently working lawmakers to legalize slot machines at the state's seven racetracks.

If both prove successful on their different paths, it could mean a slots parlor at Raceway Park off Telegraph Road with as many as 2,000 slot machines as well as a full-blown casino with as many as 5,000 slots on the south side of the Maumee River abutting Rossford.

This raises questions about whether the Toledo region could support thousands of slot machines, and how willing Penn National would be to invest significantly in a competing slots parlor at Raceway Park nine miles away from its minimum $250 million investment in a new casino along the Maumee River bordering Toledo and Rossford.

And none of this takes into consideration thousands of additional machines that could be installed in the region if a third independent effort to allow slots in bars, private clubs, and bingo parlors finds traction among lawmakers.

"We do know Penn National is going to build a casino in Toledo. That decision will impact Raceway Park. Nobody's pretending that it doesn't," Bob Tenenbaum, spokesman for the Ohio Jobs and Growth Committee, said. Penn National and Dan Gilbert, majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, created the committee to push the ballot issue.

Mr. Tenenbaum said Penn National's priority is the casino ballot issue for which it's helping to gather petition signatures. He said the company has made no decision as to whether it supports the racetrack slots proposal, but remains committed to Raceway Park.

Racing Commissioner Jerry Chabler of Sylvania supports both the casino and racetrack proposals, but he's unsure how such a conflict might play out.

"It's a very valid question, but it's one that has to be answered by Penn National," Mr. Chabler said. "It's a catch-22 position, no question about it."

Those dependent on Ohio's horse-racing industry - including horse owners, drivers, and breeders, and hay farmers and track employees - argue that the revenue generated by slots at the tracks is needed to keep them alive and enhance race purses to keep quality racehorses from fleeing to greener pastures at other states' slots-subsidized "racinos."

Supporters of the casino ballot issue also cited these reasons as reasons to support their proposal, which would earmark a portion of the 33 percent state tax collected on casino gross revenue to subsidize track operations, enhance race purses, and support horse-breeding programs.

But Raceway Park would be prohibited from sharing in that tax revenue to the extent other tracks could. Under the language of the proposed casino constitutional amendment, Raceway Park could not receive casino tax revenue for operational support because it would be owned by a competing casino operator.

Mr. Tenenbaum, however, said purses at the track still could be enhanced because that money ultimately would not end up in the hands of Penn National.

Mr. Tenenbaum also dismissed the suggestion that the language of the proposed constitutional amendment could be interpreted as securing exclusive rights for the two chief investors to develop their casinos without specifically mandating they be built.

"Both of them have reaffirmed their absolute intention to build," Mr. Tenenbaum said. "Frankly, this issue is being pushed by people who are opposed to the casinos but don't want to say so."

Contact Jim Provance at:

or 614-221-0496.

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