01/13/2011 3:55PM

River Downs sale finalized, new general manager named


The Ohio State Racing Commission on Thursday approved the sale of River Downs in Cincinnati to a Las Vegas-based casino company, Pinnacle Entertainment, according to Ohio racing officials.

Pinnacle, which owns casino properties in Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, and Nevada, reached an agreement to buy the track late last year for $45 million from its private ownership group, contingent on the approval of Ohio regulators. The company is hoping to install slot machines at the track, along with the owners of Ohio’s other struggling harness and Thoroughbred tracks.

As part of the acquisition, Pinnacle has named Kevin Kaufman, the general manager at its Indiana casino property, the Belterra Casino Resort and Spa, for the past four years, as the new general manager of River Downs, according to a letter from the company’s president, Anthony Sanfilippo, to employees posted on the company’s website. The letter said that Kaufman will be responsible for all “day-to-day operations of the racetrack.”

Jack Hanessian, the current general manager of the track, said on Thursday that he would stay on at River through the track’s live meet, which ends in September. Hanessian, who owned a 3 percent stake in the track, will then retire, he said.

“It’s been 34 years,” Hanessian said. “I’m going fishing.”

The installation of slot machines at Ohio racetracks hinges on whether the state’s new governor, John Kasich, intends to follow-through on a directive issued by the state’s former governor, Ted Strickland, that would allow the state’s seven Thoroughbred and Standardbred tracks to install the devices. It is unclear if the Kasich administration intends to pursue the directive.

All three of Ohio’s Thoroughbred tracks have changed hands in the past year as casino companies have sought to position themselves to capitalize on any expansion of gambling in the state. Beulah Park in Columbus was purchased by Penn National Gaming Inc., and Thistledown near Cleveland was purchased by Harrah’s Entertainment. Penn National won the right to open two casinos in Ohio, in Toledo and Columbus, in a statewide referendum in 2009.