Pinnacle Entertainment puts $200 million bet on River Downs construction plan

ANDERSON TWP, Ohio - Race fans have been placing bets at River Downs for nearly 90 years, but the new owners of the race track look forward to providing a new game at which customers can try their luck.             

Pinnacle Entertainment hopes to breathe new life into the aging horse track by investing more than $200 million into the property and converting it into a racino.

The venue will feature hundreds of slot machines in addition to traditional horse wagering and simulcast betting.

The entertainment company is placing a bet that the new gaming options and proposed structural changes to the track will turn River Downs into an entertainment destination again.

One of the major proposed structural changes to the building will involve tearing down the existing grandstand and constructing a new one. Officials have also debated elevating all public areas to protect the areas against flooding from the Ohio River, adding a sidewalk and building a taller fence around the property.

Pending a vote by the Anderson Township Zoning Appeals on Dec. 6, the project is scheduled to get under way in early 2013 and be finished sometime in 2014.

"They have a lot of potential to get back into the big time both racing and with the racino," Anderson Township Trustee Russ Jackson said.

In addition to the inclusion of slot machines and a physical overhaul of the structure, other entertainment-based changes might be made as well.

"The president of the corporation is looking to see what other businesses they might add, whether they be movie theaters or other kinds of things that fit," Jackson said, adding that the new building could provide a great life for the area. Jackson said he hopes the renovated track can serve as a possible cornerstone of a local entertainment district.

In addition to new racing facilities, the construction project is predicted to bring multiple food and beverage facilities and more than 1,500 parking spaces to River Downs.

Long-time race fan Burch Riber, 80, remembers the glory days of the track.

"Back when it was in its prime the grandstand was full every weekend, the club house was full," Riber said, "Now they don't get any traction at all."

While he hopes he's wrong, Riber, who first visited the track in 1942 when he was 10 years old, doesn't necessarily see the addition of slot machines and structural enhancements as a cure-all solution for the venue, especially not with new competition in the area.

"Everybody thinks the slot machines are going to save the race track. If there weren't going to be a casino downtown, I believe that would help," Riber said.

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