Dan Gilbert sells Cleveland casino interests; JACK Entertainment remains operator

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, who in 2009 led a successful voter effort to legalize casino gambling in Ohio, quietly has sold his ownership interest in JACK Entertainment, the operator of both downtown Cleveland’s casino and the Thistledown Racino in suburban North Randall.

Dan Gilbert’s family of companies are no longer affiliated with JACK Entertainment, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Casino Control Commission said Wednesday.

Changes in ownerships trigger new licenses through the commission. The commission in July approved a new license for JACK Entertainment, though the the deal did not close until later.

A spokeswoman for JACK Entertainment provided a statement Wednesday night:

“In December 2020, the JACK Entertainment management team, led by Matt Cullen and Mark Dunkeson, completed the acquisition of all of Dan Gilbert’s shares in the company, having purchased a controlling interest in the company earlier in the year. The JACK management team, who have been with the company since its inception, will remain in place.

“Matt Cullen will continue to serve as chairman of the board and Mark Dunkeson will continue his role as chief executive officer. Over the past year, JACK has relocated its home office team to be headquartered in Cleveland, making JACK the only Ohio-based gaming operator across the state’s 11 gaming properties. This hands-on leadership positions the company well for future growth.”

Gilbert, who purchased the Cavs in 2005, suffered a stroke in 2019 and has made few public appearances since.

This is the latest of a series of ownership changes in the history of the Cleveland casino.

In May 2012, the Cleveland casino became the first to open in Ohio, originally as a partnership between Gilbert-related companies and Caesars. It initially operated under the Horseshoe name. The same partnership opened the Cincinnati Horseshoe Casino in March 2013. They both later became JACK casinos under the newly formed JACK Entertainment.

JACK Entertainment in October 2019 announced an $843 million sale/leaseback deal with VICI Properties real estate trust for JACK’s downtown Cleveland casino and suburban Thistledown Racino. That deal closed on Jan. 24, 2020. The properties, under the lease arrangement, continue to be operated by JACK Entertainment under the JACK brand.

The Hard Rock Casino Cincinnati, formerly a JACK property, is also now owned by VICI. Sale-leasebacks have become a common arrangement in the casino industry. VICI’s ownership includes facilities operated under the Caesars, Hard Rock and Penn National names.

Follow casino coverage at cleveland.com/casino.

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