Ohio’s newest gambling venue opening in Warren County

The operators of Ohio’s newest racino are expected to spend as much as $120 million and hire 525 workers for the gaming complex housing 1,600 slot machines; an off-track betting parlor; four dining options and two bars - all expected to open for business at noon, Thursday, at the corner of Ohio 63 and Union Road in Turtlecreek Twp., Warren County.

Local officials project that more than $2.5 million in property and income taxes will be generated annually on the improvements on the 120-acre complex - previously a prison farm - and an earnings tax assessed on workers. Turtlecreek Twp. is to receive $2 million over the next two years from the state.

Miami Valley Gaming projects $24 million a year in economic impact.

“It’s basically creating a brand new economic engine for the region which will have spin-off effects at many levels,” said Jim Simms, president and general manager of Miami Valley Gaming.

Additional development, including new or expanded hotels, could follow.

“It all depends on how the racino goes,” Vijay Patel, general manager of the Comfort Inn, just west of the racino, said last week, while workers completed renovations in the hotel pool and lobby.

Already Patel and staff at a Best Western, just west of I-75 in Monroe, said they were profiting from the project through rooms rented to 50-70 contractors on the project. Owners were weighing further improvements or expansion.

“Pretty much anything we do is going to be based on the success of the casino,” said Josh Herron, assistant manager at the Best Western.

Leaving Lebanon

The racetrack’s move out of Lebanon leaves the Warren County Fairgrounds without its main tenants, two companies who paid $110,000 last year to operate year-round off-track betting and field two seasons of live harness races.

Miami Valley Gaming’s 5/8-mile track is to open in February, in time for the next harness-racing season.

County leaders are huddling over whether to sell the 97-acre fairgrounds to a developer, redevelop it as an equestrian center or sports complex or leave it as the county fairgrounds with stables for 400 horses. The plan can anticipate $6 million - half from a state fund for abandoned race tracks, half over five years from Miami Valley Gaming - to help in the transition.

“It’s not often a development project has $6 million at its disposal,” said Martin Russell, the county’s economic development director and chairman of the fairgrounds redevelopment committee.

The county and Miami Valley Gaming are hammering out the details of the division of $16 million of $21.6 million in property taxes expected over 10 years on the project improvements. The tax incremental financing agreement is expected to set aside $5.6 million for the Lebanon schools, the township, the county, joint vocational school district and other entities.

Miami Valley Gaming, Turtlecreek Twp. and the neighboring city of Monroe are expected to finalize an agreement to split a 1-percent earnings tax on workers at the racino. The tax would generate about $170,000 a year on a $17 million annual payroll, and tax other businesses within the boundaries of an economic development district. The district will be formed too late to assess about 1,000 construction workers that Miami Valley said have been employed on the project.

Turtlecreek Twp. also receives $1 million this year and next year from a state fund set aside to help communities adjusting to road and infrastructure needs tied to new gambling venues. Half of the funding is to be spent on related infrastructure, with the rest supplementing the local government’s general fund.

Public risks and losses

The Warren County Port Authority holds title to the Miami Valley Gaming complex. The deal saves the operator as much as $3 million in sales tax on construction materials that would have gone to the county and state. Under a series of leases and other contracts, Miami Valley Gaming paid $800,000 in closing costs and will pay $1,000 a month to lease the complex back to the operator over 10 years.

Once gambling was legalized in Ohio, the owners of the two companies operated at Lebanon Raceway, headed for decades by the Nixon and Carlo families, said they were considering reopening outside Warren County.

The businesses - and their rights to operate the slot machines, known in Ohio as video lottery terminals - were then sold to Miami Valley Gaming, a joint venture of the Delaware North Companies, a global concessions and gaming company, and the Churchill Downs racetrack company.

“You are bringing retail dollars, economic development dollars into Warren County,” Russell said. “When the private sector risks their capital, they risk it inside of Warren County.”

Lebanon loses about $12,00o a year in earnings tax and faces an uncertain future for the fairgrounds property.

Track transition

The Miami Valley Gaming complex includes no stables, but arness racing enthusiasts hope stables at the fairgrounds will be in redevelopment plans. A decision is expected early next year.

“It is a very sensitive, complicated, yet good discussion Warren County is having,” Russell said. “This is the northern entrance to Lebanon. What can we do to enhance it?”

All Lebanon Raceway employees were offered jobs at the new facility, officials said.

While about 20 percent of workers were imported from other states for key management and other specialized jobs, most of the jobs - 85 percent full time- are going to area residents, Simms said.

“Our pay rates are competitive with what is out there in the market,” Simms said. “We’re really trying to build long-term relationships.”

The last race at Lebanon Raceway, just north of downtown Lebanon, was held Saturday night.

The first race season was held there in 1948. After a year off, gamblers have been betting on harness racing in Lebanon since 1950.

“It’s a sad moment in a way,” Mel Hagemeyer, general manager of the Lebanon Raceway, track, said. “It’s been a good run.”

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