North Randall: Ohio’s newest racino is inching closer to opening, with Thistledown undergoing a major transformation from drab horse track to swanky gambling venue.
Rock Ohio Caesars showed off its ongoing remodeling effort Wednesday during a special media tour at the newly named Thistledown Racino. Overall investment is estimated at up to $88 million.
The 57,000-square-foot gaming floor will feature 1,145 slots-like video lottery terminals, small specialty restaurants, a food court, bar and Slush, a nightlife area offering live entertainment and 20 frozen drinks, including margaritas and mojitos.
“It’s all about fun here at Thistledown,” General Manager Rick Skinner said. “Everything we do is going to be geared toward making our customers feel at home, being part of our family and enjoying the fun atmosphere that we’re trying to project here at Thistle.”
So fun, in fact, that the 24-hour racino plans to offer live entertainment on shuttles that will travel between the parking lots and racino entrances.
Thistledown also will offer valet service and an outdoor smoking area.
The facility is expected to open in April, but a specific date has not been announced.
Thistledown, one of seven horse tracks in the state adding VLTs, is expected to be the second racino to open. Scioto Downs in Columbus opened last year.
Skinner, who has worked in the gaming industry for 15 years, called it “absolutely the most exciting project I’ve been a part of.”
He cited the historic character of the track, which was founded in 1925, and the 600 full-time jobs being brought to a small community that has struggled.
The former Randall Park Mall — once a jewel but now mostly vacant — is directly across the street. The area is dotted with vacant commercial buildings.
The Ohio Lottery Commission, which is overseeing the addition of VLTs in the state, is still reviewing Thistledown’s application for an operating license and doing financial and other background checks, agency spokeswoman Danielle Frizzi-Babb said.
Rock Ohio Caesars also runs the Horseshoe Casino in downtown Cleveland as part of a joint venture between Rock Gaming and Caesars Entertainment. The Caesars loyalty program, known as Total Rewards, will be available at the racino.
While the casino features slot machines and such table games as blackjack, three-card poker and poker, the racino is limited to the video lottery terminals, which to the average gambler look and play like slots.
Skinner said he’s not worried about the casino and racino competing against each other for gamblers. The casino and racino will offer some different games, as well, because of being regulated by two different state agencies.
The Ohio Casino Control Commission oversees Horseshoe Casino.
“I would like to believe that we’re going to grow the market,” Skinner said, adding that Thistledown might be more convenient for some people than traveling to downtown Cleveland.
Once the Hard Rock racino opens at Northfield Park in Northfield, possibly late this year, there will be even more competition. Those three gambling venues will be within 20 miles of each other.
Caesars controls some of the world’s most famous casino brands, including Harrah’s, Caesars, Horseshoe, Flamingo and Bally’s, and could have put one of those names on the racino. But Skinner said he’s happy with the Thistledown name.
“This property has so much history in Northeast Ohio and in the community ... so to me, personally, I like the fact that we’re calling it Thistledown Racino, because to me it resonates with the community,” he said.
Rock Ohio Caesars had toyed with the idea of relocating Thistledown to the Akron-Canton area, and the company still has an option with the state to move the track.
Skinner said he doesn’t know where that discussion stands, and he is focused only on opening the new facility.
Thistledown is devoid of any major signs promoting the racino, but that will change.
Skinner said there are plans for signs along the property and major signage on the roof that will be visible from Interstate 480.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org.