Purchases River Downs in Cincinnati in hopes that racetrack slots will move forward

The Ohio State Racing Commission has approved the sale of River Downs in Cincinnati to Las Vegas-based Pinnacle Entertainment.

Publicly traded Pinnacle, which owns casinos in Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri and Nevada, agreed to buy the track last year for $45 million from its private ownership group. Pinnacle 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 is moving Kevin Kaufman, general manager of its Belterra Casino Resort and Spa in southern Indiana, to River Downs as general manager. Jack Hanessian, the current general manager of the track, said he would stay on through the live meet, which ends in September.

The installation of slot machines at Ohio racetracks depends on whether the new governor, John Kasich, is on board with a directive issued by former Gov. Ted Strickland to allow the state’s seven thoroughbred and standardbred tracks to install the devices. In anticipation of this new racino industry all three of the state’s thoroughbred tracks have changed hands in the past year. Beulah Park in Columbus was purchased by Penn National Gaming, and Thistledown, near Cleveland, was purchased by Harrah’s Entertainment (now Caesars Entertainment).

Penn National also has won the right to open two of the four casinos slated for the state (in Toledo and Columbus) in a 2009 voter referendum.