The geographic area encompassing Northeastern Ohio, Northwestern Pennsylvania, and the slice of West Virginia near Pittsburgh, Pa. is about to undergo an enormous transformation pertaining to horse racing. This sea change is being brought about by the addition of video lottery terminals at seven Ohio racetracks and the opening of four full-scale Ohio casinos in the Buckeye State.

Rock Ohio Caesars owns the new Horseshoe Casino in downtown Cleveland and Thistledown racetrack in the suburb of North Randall (Rock Ohio Caesars also owns 90% of Turfway Park, not far from its forthcoming Horseshoe Casino in Cincinnati).

The gaming company has indicated that it will install slots at Thistledown’s existing site, but may ultimately decide to close the facility and build a racino south of Akron, about 50 miles away. The present Thistledown venue is only six miles from Northfield Park harness track, where a Hard Rock Casino will open.

Penn National Gaming Inc. wants to relocate its Beulah Park, near Columbus, Ohio, to the Youngstown area. The repositioning would place the racetrack less than 60 miles from both the current and proposed Thistledown sites.

PNGI will open the Hollywood Casino in Columbus later this year.

Two other Thoroughbred racetracks–Presque Isle Downs & Casino in Erie, Pa. and Mountaineer Casino Racetrack & Resort in Chester, W.V.–are each about 100 miles from the present Thistledown location. A PNGI racetrack close to Youngstown would be approximately 50 miles from Mountaineer Casino Racetrack & Resort and about 100 miles from Presque Isle.

If Ohio developments go as planned, it will be a particularly challenging environment for Mountaineer because it has long been a popular destination for Northeast Ohioans on daytrips and overnights at its hotel. These patrons now have easy access to gaming at the Horseshoe Casino in Cleveland and soon there will be VLTs at Thistledown and Northfield Park.

Likewise, Thistledown, Northfield Park, and the relocated Beulah Park will pose strong competition for Presque Isle.

Whether this massive expansion of casino gaming and Thoroughbred racing can and will be supported is problematic. The most probable outcome is that Mountaineer and Presque Isle, both owned by MTR Gaming Group, will see considerable attrition in their business as customers from the Buckeye state opt to stay nearer to home for both gaming and pari-mutuel wagering. Owners and trainers are apt to follow the money.

Copyright © 2012 Horse Racing Business

Originally published in the Blood-Horse. Used with permission.