10/21/2011 12:16PM

Ohio commission gives approval for tracks to relocate

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The Ohio State Racing Commission approved rules on Thursday that will allow any of the state’s seven racetracks to relocate, a move favored by casino companies that are looking to carve out territories for themselves for slot-machine parlors among Ohio’s most populous cities.

The commission approved the rules on an “emergency basis,” following a pattern set by Gov. John Kasich, who earlier this week issued an “emergency order” to expedite rules allowing the tracks to open casinos. Earlier this year, Kasich and the legislature authorized up to 17,500 slot machines at the state’s tracks through the Ohio Lottery Commission.

The effort to fast-track the process was presented with a hurdle on Friday, however, when the Ohio Roundtable, a conservative group, said it would file a lawsuit challenging the decision by Kasich and the legislature to authorize slot machines and a previous deal Kasich worked out with casino operators. The group contends that slot machines can be legalized at racetracks only through public referendum.

“This is much bigger than gambling,” said Rob Walgate, vice president of the group, at a press conference on Friday. “This is about the rule of law.”

Penn National Gaming Inc., which won the exclusive right to open casinos in Columbus and Toledo through a 2009 referendum, has already stated that it wants to move Beulah Park to Dayton. Beulah, which Penn bought last year, is located just outside Columbus, and would compete with the company’s planned casino there.

According to the rules passed by the commission, tracks wanting to relocate will have to provide “incremental economic benefits” for the moves in their applications. The rules also allow the tracks to build “temporary” slots parlors in the new locations as long as they spend $5 million on the facilities.