CLEVELAND, Ohio – Racing may resume at horse tracks around Ohio, but the wagering will have to be done remotely using phones, computers, or going to simulcast facilities open in other states such as Florida and Arkansas.
Social distancing rules and other precautions approved by the Ohio State Racing Commission and the state this week will permit racing without spectators as early as next Friday, May 22, for the first time since closing on March 20 because of coronavirus.
No tracks, however, immediately announced plans to resume operations.
“I don’t think anyone is going to open next Friday. It takes some prep,” Scott Borgemenke, chairman of the racing commission, said during a telephone interview Friday. “I have not heard a firm date, but I think they are targeting toward the end of the month.”
The Mahoning Valley season had been scheduled to run through April 18, followed by more than three months of racing at JACK Thistledown, starting April 27. Borgemenke said the horses still have to be moved from Mahoning to Thistledown.
The final days of racing before the closing at both Mahoning Valley and Northfield Park north of Akron were done without spectators in order to follow restrictions on mass gatherings. Wagering was conducted remotely.
Ohio has three thoroughbred tracks – JACK Thistledown in North Randall, Mahoning Valley in Youngstown and Belterra Park in Cincinnati – plus four harness tracks – Northfield Park, Miami Valley in Lebanon, Scioto Downs in Columbus and Dayton Raceway.
Additionally, there is is an off-track wagering parlor in Sandusky - Cedar Downs. Borgemenke said no decision has been made on when that facility may reopen.
Under the rules going forward, only screened racing personnel will be permitted at the tracks.
Regulations go into detail about required training on virus-control measures, restricted areas, screening of people at the tracks and the handling of horses for both those staying at the track and being brought in for short periods of time.
There also is a detailed set of rules for the hundreds of workers who live in dormitories at the tracks.
For example, bans on visitors and requirements for bathroom attendants to sanitize the showers between use. Two people may stay in a room together only if they are family members, currently room together or work in the same stable.
“The tracks are going to put in a lot of safety precautions,” Borgemenke said. “We are thrilled to death that we are going to get these folks back to work in a safe environment.”