Sunday, March 7, 2004

'Racino' more than slots, track

Bill would allow full casino at Turfway

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

FLORENCE - When Turfway Park president Bob Elliston hears the phrase "slots at tracks," he cringes.

Elliston said the words inaccurately describe how the Florence thoroughbred racetrack could morph into a Northern Kentucky casino if gambling is legalized in Kentucky.

"We're talking about a full casino environment that would permit all the gaming you have right now on Indiana's riverboats," Elliston said. "Blackjack, craps, roulette and the very best electronic games and slots, as well as entertainment, restaurants and nightlife."

If casino gambling is legalized by Kentucky's voters in November, Turfway plans to develop a "racino" - the gambling industry term for a casino at a racetrack - that "at a minimum will cost $125 million and employ 1,500 people," Elliston said.

"Some have suggested that if race tracks get gambling, all we'll have is slot machines," he said. "But that's an outdated model and an old idea.

"We envision a facility that will be tourist destination, the kind of property that screams economic development."

Legislation has been filed in the Kentucky General Assembly that, if approved by lawmakers, would give voters the option of amending the state's constitution to allow casino gambling.

The bills' House and Senate sponsors propose nine casinos: five at racetracks - including Turfway - and four at other locations to be determined. But the only casino in Northern Kentucky would be at Turfway, under the legislation.

Developers, including Kentucky Speedway President Jerry Carroll, oppose having just one Northern Kentucky casino. Carroll, Corporex Cos. Chairman Bill Butler, Columbia Sussex President Bill Yung and others have proposed a freestanding casino elsewhere in the region, possibly along the river or along Interstate 75 in Fort Mitchell.

"If you're going to do gaming, you need to do it right," Carroll, Turfway's former owner, has said repeatedly. "Do it right with casinos, not just slots at the race tracks."

But Elliston said the reference to slots goes back to when gambling legislation was proposed a few years ago. At the time the plan was to install only electronic slot and other gambling machines at the tracks.

"We've changed all that," Elliston said.

Elliston said the track will have "the first and greatest" in slots and other electronic gambling devices. through two of its owners:

• Harrah's Inc., one of the world's largest gambling companies.

• GTECH Corp., a world leading manufacturing of electronic gambling machines.

But it also will offer all the card and table games found at Indiana's casinos. And thoroughbred racing will not be an afterthought.

"The riverboats in Indiana don't have horse racing," Elliston said. "They don't have the Lane's End (annual stakes race). They don't have 110 days of live racing. They don't have a race book where you can bet (simulcast) races from across the country."

A racino at Mountaineer Park in Chester, W.Va., features year-round live thoroughbred racing, 3,000 video slot machines, live shows, sporting events, simulcast racing, restaurants, bars, a hotel, golf course and spa.

If the gambling amendment passes, Elliston said, Turfway would put together a plan that would detail attractions and amenities.

"We're going to do it right, it's going to be a first-class entertainment destination for people," he said.


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