What Happened To The Original Plan?

by Ed Meyer

posted on March 12, 2009 in General Discussion, News | No Comments >>

In Ohio, the forces that be were aligning to bring an answer to the table to eliminate state debt, and save the game of racing. I guess it was just a little too soon, as we should have waited to hear the whole story.

No one knows what a new casino plan announced Wednesday could have in store for Ohio’s seven beleaguered horse racing tracks. The way the plan is written, horse track owners and horsemen will share a slice of the wealth, but slot machines and casino gambling will not be allowed at any of the horse racing tracks.

The Ohio Jobs and Growth Committee chaired by Charlie Luken announced the plan on Wednesday to build single casinos in Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo and Cincinnati at sites already selected. It would give 3 percent of the casino profits to the Ohio State Racing Commission to support horse race purses, horse breeding programs and the operations at existing race tracks.

The plan would deny funds to any Ohio horse racing track whose owner or operator holds a majority interest in an Ohio casino facility or a casino license. Luken is familiar with Ohio horse racing. The former Cincinnati mayor and congressman is a former chairman of the Ohio State Racing Commission.

The casino proposal has been submitted to Attorney General Richard Cordray. His approval of the ballot issue’s wording is needed to allow proponents to begin gathering signatures to put it on the Nov. 3rd state ballot.

Thistledown’s owner has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and the thoroughbred track is feuding again with the Ohio Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association over the number of live racing dates for 2009. Despite those bumps in the road, the North Randall oval is ready to send out its first live racing program on April 30.

“It’s business as usual,” said General Manager Brent Reitz. “We’re getting ready to start the season.”

Reitz said negotiations with horsemen are going well. He hopes to have an agreement to present to the Ohio State Racing Commission at its meeting on Thursday.

Toronto-based Magna Entertainment Corp., which owns Thistledown and race tracks from Gulfstream to Santa Anita, received a cash transfusion this week from MI Developments, also owned by Magna’s chairman Frank Stronach. Insiders believe some of Magna’s more valuable tracks will be sold as the company tries to reduce its debt.

So, the story continues to unfold. But this time racing is not front and center, but a recipient of a sliver of the pie. Originally I thought the plan was to eliminate debt and save a dying industry. I guess I missed the small print about putting one on life support, and creating a new venture.