COLUMBUS: The state’s newest gambling destination is bringing a little Las Vegas-style swagger to an old horse track surrounded by cornfields.
Scioto Downs Casino & Racetrack opens this afternoon, becoming the first racino in the state since Ohio authorized allowing the slots-like video lottery terminals at the tracks. Ohio also becomes the 14th state with a combined casino and horse track.
“When they come in, they are going to see that it’s a Vegas-style environment, and they are going to have a good time,” Mike Newsome, director of marketing for the racino, said during a tour with the Akron Beacon Journal this week. “[We] have the same type of ambience and environment that they would expect to see in major gaming areas.”
MTR Gaming Group of Chester, W.Va., invested about $152 million to build a 117,000-square-foot gaming facility that sits smack in front of the harness track, located about two miles south of Interstate 270 amid farm fields. MTR Gaming also owns the Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort in Chester and Presque Isle Downs & Casino in Erie, Pa.
Scioto Downs provides a preview for what likely is coming to the Akron area.
In April, Northfield Park in Northfield announced a deal with Hard Rock International to build a Hard Rock-branded gaming facility at the harness track in northern Summit County.
Thistledown, a thoroughbred track in suburban Cleveland, has investigated relocating to the Akron area.
What it offers
The 24-hour, smoke-free Scioto Downs Casino, bathed inside in brown, tan and gold colors, features more than 1,700 video lottery terminals spread over a single floor. The interior includes a contemporary, upscale design.
Gamblers will see familiar names on the games, including Wheel of Fortune, Sex and the City and Monopoly. The machines range from 1 cent to $100.
The Veil Bar, with white ceramic horse heads on the walls and black ceramic horse statues above the bar, serves as the centerpiece of the floor. There’s also a high-limit area, valet parking, dedicated smoking area and cafe. The Grove Buffet, sports bar and space for another 400 video slots remain under construction.
Self parking is free in a 2,800-space lot.
The racino also offers a rewards program like any casino. The INClub provides benefits for gamblers depending on how long and how much they gamble.
A covered walkway sits between the gaming facility and the racetrack, which also received about $1 million worth of renovations.
Rejuvenating tracks, area
The Ohio horse racing industry long has advocated for casino gambling, saying it would help rejuvenate the tracks. The industry has complained it has suffered as tracks in neighboring states added casino gambling and boosted their purses, luring away Ohio’s best horsemen and women.
“It’s going to be a monumental day and puts us back on a level playing field in our industry with the surrounding states,” Ohio Harness Horsemen’s Association General Manager Jerry Knappenberger said about the opening of the racino.
The whole agricultural industry has been awaiting the arrival of the racinos, he added.
Ohio used to lead the nation in breeding of standardbred horses, but fell to seventh last year.
Already, breeding numbers have doubled with the news about racinos coming to the state, Knappenberger said. That means more horses “eating Ohio hay and grain, and resting on Ohio straw raised and sold by Ohio farmers. It’s a great day for the agricultural-based horsing racing industry in Ohio.”
With more people coming to Scioto Downs, Newsome also expects to see a resurgence in the popularity of horse racing. While there is no entertainment venue within the gaming facility, the racino plans to offer concerts and other events at the track.
The racino has only video slots. There are no video poker or table games, such as blackjack or roulette. Those table games are reserved for the four casinos opening in Ohio.
Scioto Downs is the third major gambling facility in the state. The Horseshoe Casino Cleveland and Hollywood Casino Toledo opened this month. Hollywood Casino Columbus is expected to open this fall.
A Franklin County judge this week dismissed a lawsuit questioning the constitutionality of the racetracks’ video slots plan, clearing the way for the state’s other six tracks to add VLT gambling. The other track owners had been holding off until the suit was resolved.
The Ohio Lottery Commission is overseeing the expansion of video slots into the tracks. As of Thursday, Scioto Downs was the only track that had applied for a VLT license.
The tracks are required to pay a $50 million license fee to operate video slots. Applicants also must agree to invest at least $150 million in capital improvements.
The Scioto Downs racino is expected to generate about $3 million per month in revenue for the state.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org.