Rick Armon
and Betty Lin-Fisher

Gov. John Kasich is considering a deal that would allow the Thistledown horse-racing track to relocate to the Akron area, possibly to property owned by Akron-Canton Airport in Green.

The agreement could put two so-called racinos — the industry term for combined horse tracks and video slot parlors — in Summit County.

Any deal would follow a similar agreement struck two weeks ago with Penn National Gaming that permits the company to move its two horse tracks to avoid directly competing with its Las Vegas-style casinos opening in Columbus and Toledo.

“It’s something that we’re looking at it,” Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said of the Thistledown move. “We’re giving it consideration. You saw the Penn National [memorandum of understanding], which contemplates a move of Thistledown to Akron. I’m not going to say anymore. You can see the writing on the wall.”

Several sources told the Beacon Journal that interest has been expressed in property owned by the Akron-Canton Airport. The land, right off Interstate 77, would be a prime spot to capture the Akron and Canton gambling market.

Airport spokeswoman Kristie Van Auken and Green Mayor Dick Norton would not comment.

The Beacon Journal filed public record requests this week with the airport and city to obtain any documents or correspondence related to Thistledown.

Rock Ohio Caesars, which will operate the Horseshoe Casino in Cleveland with Caesars Entertainment, downplayed any talk about the track moving from North Randall in suburban Cleveland.

“As we’ve discussed before, we continue to explore our options as the gaming landscape firms up in Ohio, but in the meantime, we like the Thistledown location and facility and think it can be complementary to Horseshoe Cleveland,” Rock Ohio spokeswoman Jennifer Kulczycki said in an email.

Rock Ohio has an option to obtain an equity share in Thistle­down “after successfully applying for a license from the Ohio Racing Commission,” she said.

Commission Chairman Robert K. Schmitz said there is no request before his group to move Thistledown, but talks are ongoing with the governor’s office. The ownership makeup of Thistledown could change if a deal with the governor is reached, he added.

Under the Penn National deal, the company will pay the state $150 million to move Raceway Park in Toledo to Dayton and Beulah Park in suburban Columbus to Austintown near Youngstown.

The company agreed to invest at least $150 million to build each new track and give the state 33.5 percent of the gross video lottery terminal receipts.

The deal also states that no other gambling facility can be opened within 50 miles of a Penn National casino or racino, but it makes exemptions for Lebanon Raceway moving in Dayton and Thistledown potentially moving to Akron.

Akron and Austintown are less than 50 miles apart.

Last year, Kasich signed an executive order putting the Ohio Lottery Commission in charge of overseeing the expansion of video slots to the state’s seven horse tracks. So far, only MTR Gaming Group, which owns Scioto Downs in Columbus, has applied for a video slot license.

Others have held off because of a lawsuit filed by the Ohio Roundtable against the video slot effort.

Northfield Park owner Brock Milstein and North Randall Mayor David Smith could not be reached for comment.

Summit County Executive Russ Pry said he’s heard rumors about a move here but his administration has not been approached. He said that he’s not in favor of or against the idea right now.

“With that project, I would want to know where the local community stands and to figure out whether or not the city or township had a strong interest one way or another,” he said.

Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or rarmon@thebeaconjournal.com.

Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or blinfisher@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/blinfisher and see all her stories at www.ohio.com/betty.