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The Suburbanite
  • Akron-Canton Airport 'racino' plan up in the air

  • Airport leaders said Friday’s it’s unclear where the potential development stands now but they had talks last year.

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  • Akron-Canton Airport officials said Friday they were in talks last year with two major casino companies about bringing a racetrack and video lottery terminal casino, dubbed a racino, to an 80-acre site in Green owned by the airport.
    In addition, an agreement between the governor’s office and a third gaming company raises the possibility that the Thistledown horse-racing track in North Randall could be relocated to that site.
    But the discussions with a broker for Rock Ohio Caesars, which is affiliated with Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, and Caesars Entertainment ended without explanation in November, the officials said.
    The broker then called the airport within the last several weeks to see if the site, south of Greensburg Road and east of Massillon Road, was still available. But it’s not clear what happens next. The airport says it has not finalized a lease agreement.
    “As of right now, we don’t know where it stands,” said Akron-Canton Airport CEO Richard B. McQueen, who added that the site is being rented to a farmer for growing corn.
    Jennifer Kulczycki, the spokeswoman for Gilbert’s Rock Gaming, could not be reached for comment.
    McQueen said the Cleveland broker Jones Lang LaSalle, which originally did not disclose the identity of its client, contacted the airport in July and inquired about the site west of the Ohio National Guard armory and south of the businesses North Canton Transfer and Canton Elevator. The broker later revealed it was representing Real Estate Acquisition LLC, which, airport board member Robert G. Konstand said, is owned by a venture between Rock Ohio Caesars and Caesars Entertainment.
    Due to strict state regulations on gambling, the racino would not have table games such as blackjack or poker, McQueen said.
    McQueen said that the broker expressed no concern about the noise from planes and that the racino would have no effect on airport operations. The airport chief added that because the racino is expected to attract mainly local residents, it’s not expected to boost airport passenger traffic. The approximately $200,000 a year in lease revenue would help the airport keep the fees it charges its carrier airlines and passengers low, McQueen said.
    On Aug. 18, the airport board approved a letter of intent with Real Estate Acquisition, where the entity would lease the site for $2,500 per acre per year. But the board required Green to approve the opening of a racino with thoroughbred horse racing at that location.
    Airport officials said they've had discussions with Green about the racino, but they haven’t advanced far since November. Green Mayor Dick Norton could not be reached for comment Friday evening.
    The Plain Dealer reported last week that Rock Ohio Caesars, which controls the operations of Thistledown and also owns the Horseshoe Casino Cleveland, was considering seeking the state’s approval to move Thistledown to a new site with video slot machines. The newspaper said the gaming company wanted to minimize the competition for Horseshoe and avoid competition from video slots at Northfield Park, which has a harness-racing track.
    Page 2 of 2 - The paper referred to a memorandum of understanding reached in February between Gov. John Kasich’s office and Ohio’s other gaming company, Penn National Gaming, where the governor agreed to allow Penn National to move two other race tracks to new sites. The agreement says the state would not allow any other race track to move within 50 miles of those new sites unless those relocations involved the move of Lebanon Raceway to Warren County and Thistledown to the Akron area.
    Kasich’s spokesman Rob Nichols confirmed Thursday that moving the Thistledown race track to the Akron area was being considered, but he would not confirm a specific site.
    The Plain Dealer said the gaming companies have slowed down in proceeding with their racino development plans to await the resolution of a lawsuit filed in October by the Franklin County Common Pleas Court by the Ohio Roundtable, which opposes gambling. The group claims the Ohio General Assembly violated the Ohio Constitution by allowing video slot machines at race tracks.
    Airport spokeswoman Kristie Van Auken said the broker told the airport last year it was considering other sites.
    “We don't know if it’s for real,” said Konstand. “We do not want to put a lot of time and effort into it until we know. The (next) move is up to Rock Gaming.”
    Konstand said the airport had agreed to keep details of the negotiations confidential. But the airport got Real Estate Acquisition’s agreement to waive the confidentiality provisions and decided to disclose the talks Friday after reporters from the Akron Beacon-Journal made public records requests for documents associated with the discussions.
    If the racino were to relocate to Green, it could bring Green a substantial increase in income tax revenue.