Thursday, March 07, 2002

Carroll looks at N. Ky., sees casinos

Hurdle 1: Getting law passed in Ky.

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        SPARTA, Ky. — The man who built Kentucky Speedway wants to build casinos.

In an office overlooking Kentucky Speedway, Jerry Carroll talks about an entertainment gambling complex.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
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        Developer Jerry Carroll, who rebuilt a thoroughbred horse track and then built a $150 million motor speedway, now wants to build casinos in Northern Kentucky. And he wants to build them big.

        “If you're going to do gaming, you have to do it right, you have to do it big,” Mr. Carroll said Wednesday during in an interview in his office that overlooks the 3-year-old Kentucky Speedway, which he and a group of investors built in Gallatin County 35 miles southeast of Cincinnati.

        Mr. Carroll is pursuing casinos with another high-profile Northern Kentucky developer, Bill Butler of Corporex, owner of the RiverCenter towers in Covington. Though the two development dynamos aren't talking specifics, they could eventually build land-based casinos in Covington, Fort Mitchell or Gallatin County.

        On Tuesday night, Mr. Carroll and Mr. Butler, acting as an umbrella company called Riverfront West, were awarded rights by the city of Covington to do a marketing feasibility study for the last undeveloped land on Covington's riverfront.

        Wednesday, Mr. Carroll wouldn't confirm that these Covington riverfront acres across the Ohio River from Paul Brown Stadium were targeted for a land-based casino. Instead he wanted to talk about the concept of land-based gambling in Kentucky and what infrastructure the facility would need.

        “I'm talking bigger and better than Argosy,” he said, referring to the riverboat casino in nearby Lawrenceburg, Ind., which most months is the most popular floating casino in the nation.

        “You need a diversified mega-center that is more that just gaming,” Mr. Carroll said. “You need visibility, convenience, entertainment, retail, restaurants, hotels — the whole package. That's what we're going after.”

        Mr. Carroll is thinking far beyond the electronic slot machines Kentucky horse track owners and operators want to build at eight Kentucky tracks, including Turfway Park in Florence.

        Mr. Carroll, who has been pushing for casinos in Kentucky for a decade, acknowledges his idea is in the concept stage. Casino gambling is currently illegal in Kentucky and he does not have, or at least he is not revealing, specific locations planned for casinos.

        Nor does he intend to lobby state lawmakers this year to allow casinos, even though he does have a lobbyist — former state senator Joe Meyer of Covington — working in Frankfort.

        “The timing isn't right now ... but it's something we will probably try in next year's legislative session,” Mr. Carroll said.

        Mr. Carroll refused to say where he will pursue developing casinos. But he does have access to at least three locations:

        • Covington's riverfront. He and Mr. Butler have the rights to study the feasibility of developing Riverfront West, a 10-acre tract between the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge and Covington Landing.

        • The former Oldenberg Brewery building in Fort Mitchell. Mr. Carroll is part-owner of the building, which is adjacent to the Drawbridge Inn and features a large unoccupied hall.

        • The Kentucky Speedway, which is surrounded by hundreds of acres of undeveloped land.

        Mr. Carroll's pursuit of casinos comes as the thoroughbred industry is trying to convince state lawmakers to legalize gambling. Legislation filed in the Kentucky General Assembly would allow the development of eight gambling halls at tracks that would offer video machines. Gamblers could play slots, blackjack, keno and other casino games.

        But with only about 20 days remaining in this year's legislative session, the gambling bill's fate is uncertain. While it may pass the Democratic-controlled House, Sen. David Williams, R-Burkesville, has vowed to kill the legislation — sponsored by House Majority Caucus Chairman Jim Callahan, D-Wilder — in the Republican-controlled Senate.

        Mr. Carroll said he is not trying to damage the bill. Under his plan, tracks would still have slots and some of the money generated by casinos would go to the thoroughbred industry.

        “But if you're going to do gambling, you have to do more than just a room full of slots,” he said.

        Turfway Park President Bob Elliston said the racing industry will continue to push for its bill, designed to allow tracks to compete with casinos in Indiana and Illinois.

        “I don't believe the will or sentiment exists in the General Assembly to do full-blown casinos in new venues that aren't already in the gaming business,” Mr. Elliston said Wednesday.

        Mr. Carroll, who through his Carroll Properties company has also developed office buildings and retail centers, is working on his plan for land-based casinos with Mr. Butler.

        Through his Corporex Cos. Mr. Butler has developed millions of square feet of office, retail, industrial and hotel space, including Covington's RiverCenter, a collection of office towers, restaurants, hotels and luxury condos and apartments on the Ohio River.

        Mr. Butler was not available to comment.

        Tom Caradonio, president and chief executive of the Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitors Bureau, said a riverfront casino near the Northern Kentucky Convention Center — which is near Covington's Riverfront West site — would be a success.

        “It is something that would attract people and attract conventions to Northern Kentucky, and it would add to the tourism attractions like Newport on the Levee and the rest of the riverfront we already have,” Mr. Caradonio said.



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