ThistleDown Racino is staying put.
Rock Ohio Caesars, a joint venture of Rock Gaming and Caesars Entertainment, announced Wednesday that the gambling parlor and thoroughbred track will remain in suburban Cleveland instead of moving south to the Akron-Canton area.
“We have a lot of history and a very solid site location here,” said Marcus Glover, Northeast Ohio senior vice president and general manager of Caesars Entertainment.
He also cited a strong relationship with North Randall and Warrensville Heights leaders, plans to beautify the area, and “the great support that we’ve enjoyed from our customers.”
The 89-year-old track sits in both North Randall and Warrensville Heights.
“We are pleased that our preliminary talks to revitalize the area surrounding the racino played a role in ThistleDown’s decision to stay, and we are excited to begin working immediately with the various stakeholders to bring these plans to life,” North Randall Mayor David Smith said in a prepared statement.
Under an agreement struck with the state, Rock Ohio Caesars had a June 11 deadline to decide whether to stay or relocate. The company had been quiet about its intentions leading up to Wednesday.
“It was a very difficult decision,” Glover said. “It’s the reason that we made it on the date of our expiration. Obviously when the ability ... came about to relocate it was something we had to ponder and look at very seriously.”
Rock Ohio Caesars had invested about $89 million into renovating ThistleDown, hired more than 600 workers and started offering slots-like video lottery terminals in April 2013. The racino offers a 57,000-square-foot gaming floor with 1,150 VLTs, six dining options, two bars and an outdoor gaming patio.
The company said it will invest at least another $60 million to update and add guest amenities.
ThistleDown has had a successful run so far and is consistently pulling in the highest monthly revenue per machine among racinos.
Last month, ThistleDown took in $10.5 million in revenue on $115 million gambled.
Rock Ohio Caesars said the addition of VLTs has helped the thoroughbred racing at the track. During the 2014 season, ThistleDown purses have grown 28 percent, the company said.
For example, the track’s Ohio Derby on July 19 will carry a purse of $300,000, which is three times the size in 2013.
Rock Ohio Caesars and Gov. John Kasich’s administration had worked out a deal two years ago that would have allowed the horse track to relocate. The four-page agreement didn’t spell out a specific location nor when the track would move, but stated that it had to be within a 12-mile radius of Akron-Canton Airport in Green.
The company had explored sites along Interstate 77. At one point, it investigated a lease deal for 80 acres, and possibly up to 160 acres, along Greensburg Road in Green. The airport owns that property.
Green voters approved a ballot issue in November 2012 barring any “casino gaming, horse racing, scheme of chance, game of chance or gambling device” from locating in the city, except for nonprofit charitable purposes as authorized by Ohio law or Green City Council.
As part of the state deal, Rock Ohio would have paid the state $25 million to move the track. The state also would have had to approve the specific site.
“They made a decision based on the capital costs of relocation and rebuilding and retraining and the whole gambit,” said Alan Silver, an assistant professor of restaurant, hotel and tourism at Ohio University and a casino expert. “There probably was a lot of thought and analysis that took place.”
The decision to stay is a loss for the Akron-Canton community, which would have enjoyed an economic development boost from the racino, he said.
Rock Gaming and Caesars also operate the Horseshoe Casino in downtown Cleveland.
When the company struck the deal with the state, the belief was that Rock Ohio wanted to move ThistleDown farther from its casino.
ThistleDown also is only about 6 miles from the Hard Rock Rocksino Northfield Park, which opened in December in Northfield in northern Summit County.
The Rocksino has been the top racino in the state for revenue since opening. It took in $16 million last month. It also has 1,110 more machines than ThistleDown.
ThistleDown would have been the third horse track to move in Ohio.
Penn National Gaming Inc. worked out a deal with the state to relocate Raceway Park from Toledo to the Dayton area and Beulah Park from suburban Columbus to the Youngstown area.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or email@example.com.