Whenever a racetrack is purchased by a casino company, a question that invariably arises is whether the casino management will relegate horse racing to a second-class status or try to abolish it altogether.

Yet the recent change-of-ownership of Turfway Park provides plenty of reason for optimism because the newest investor has had outstanding results in founding and operating companies in sundry lines of business, and getting gaming legalized in a state where such efforts had always failed.

Turfway Park is now owned by Rock Ohio Caesars, a joint venture between current 50% Turfway owner Caesars Entertainment Corporation and Rock Gaming LLC, with Keeneland retaining a 10 percent share. A press release by Rock Ohio Caesars stated: “With (the) equity transaction approval [by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission], Caesars will contribute Turfway to the Rock Ohio Caesars joint venture.” Rock Ohio Caesars already owns the nascent Horseshoe Casinos in Cleveland and Cincinnati, OH and Thistledown racetrack in a Cleveland suburb.

Whereas Caesars Entertainment is highly focused on gaming, the same is not true for the impresario behind Rock Gaming, 50-year-old Daniel Gilbert, a Detroit-based serial entrepreneur par excellence.

Gilbert owns or is a major investor in some 40 firms with 6,000 employees, including Quicken Loans (the largest online retail mortgage lender in the United States), the Cleveland Cavaliers of the National Basketball Association, and Rockbridge Growth Equity. He is also a co-founder of Detroit Venture Partners, which invests in seed and early-stage technology companies, primarily to be located in downtown Detroit. One of his partners is Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who, like Gilbert, is an alumnus of Michigan State University.

Gilbert’s portfolio of businesses contains firms with the creative and technical skills to assist in marketing Turfway Park, particularly online. Several are involved in social media and/or sports promotion and go by intriguing names like ePrize, Fathead, and Made By Rabbit.

Rock Gaming was instrumental in the 2009 voter referendum in Ohio that legalized casino gambling by amending the state constitution. Though Kentucky cannot have a similar plebiscite unless it is first authorized by the legislature and governor, the political savvy demonstrated by Rock Gaming in the Buckeye state should provide encouragement to those who want to see video lottery terminals at Turfway Park. At the very least, the Cincinnati Horseshoe Casino and Turfway can immediately develop coordinated marketing initiatives and consolidate some operations.

Prior to its acquisition by Rock Gaming, Turfway Park faced a grim future, owing to the scheduled 2013 opening of the Horseshoe Casino and the impending addition of video lottery terminals at River Downs racetrack. Turfway’s prospects can now be markedly enhanced by the resources and “can-do” corporate culture of its newest proprietor.

Copyright © 2012 Horse Racing Business

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