The man at the helm of southwest Ohio’s newest gaming facility isn’t fazed by the hand he’s been dealt.

“I’m a competitive person by nature,” says Jim Simms, president and general manager of Miami Valley Gaming & Racing, at the Monroe exit of Interstate 75 in Warren County. “I’ve worked very competitive markets, and this is a challenge that I savor.”

Simms, 49, an 18-year veteran of the gaming industry, has his work cut out for him.

The $175 million Miami Valley Gaming facility is the first of three new racinos coming out of the starting gate in the Cincinnati-Dayton market in less than a year.

When Miami Valley opens at noon on Dec. 12 (“We hope 12-12-12 is our lucky number,” Simms says) patrons will find a gaming floor with 1,600 video slot machines, four restaurants, and a 1,000-seat enclosed grandstand overlooking a five-eighths-mile harness track.

On May 1, the recently renamed Belterra Park Gaming & Entertainment Center, formerly River Downs in Anderson Township, expects to open with another 1,600 video slot machines and a new thoroughbred track. And in the second half of 2014, Penn National Gaming Inc.’s Hollywood Gaming at Dayton Raceway is slated to open in Dayton with about 1,000 video lottery terminals, VLTs as they’re known in the industry, and a harness track.

The three racinos, marrying slots with live and simulcast horse racing, are part of an increasingly crowded gaming field that includes the high-glitz Horseshoe Casino in downtown Cincinnati and three gambling facilities in southeast Indiana including Belterra Casino Resort in Florence, Ind., like Belterra Park owned by Pinnacle Entertainment Inc.

Combined, there will be more than 11,000 slot machines available between the racinos and the casinos in Cincinnati and southeast Indiana .

Is the market saturated?

Gaming expert Alan Silver, a professor of casino management at Ohio University in Athens, says it’s too soon to tell.

“It’s a new industry in Ohio, and like any new business it takes time to develop loyal customers,” he says.

In general, total gaming revenues across the United States have been relatively flat at $37 billion annually even with the addition of 20 new casinos over the last few years, he says.

“In the long run, there’s room for everybody,” he says. “But the bottom lines aren’t going to be as good as some operators anticipated.”

Simms, who ran Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack in West Virginia before coming here, says, “We think there’s room enough in the market to compete effectively. I’m comfortable that we have the right product at the right time.”

Still, in a business where customer loyalty is paramount, Miami Valley, a joint venture of Delaware North Corp. and Churchill Downs, pushed the 11-month construction of the 120-acre site so it could open this year rather than early 2014 as announced initially. That gives Miami Valley more time to attract customers from Dayton before Hollywood Gaming’s facility, 31 miles north on Needmore Road on Dayton’s north side, opens.

“We think we have a great location,” says Simms. “We’re 30-35 minutes from Dayton and maybe 25 minutes from Cincinnati depending on where you’re coming from.”

“We’re pretty excited,” says Phil Smith, president of the Warren County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Tourism is a nearly $1 billion industry in Warren County, and Miami Valley Gaming adds to the mix of attractions such as Kings Island and the nearby Cincinnati Premium Outlets aimed at the bureau’s target audience in a 150-mile radius.

However, the initial spring racing season at Miami Valley won’t begin until about mid-February after the winter thaw.

Ohio’s horse industry, which pushed for the addition of slots at the state’s seven commercial tracks, is counting on the gaming revenues boosting track purses to restore Ohio’s competitive edge with neighboring states which have added track gaming.

“When people think of horse racing, they think of the big corporations that own the tracks,” says Jerry Knappenberger, general manager of the Ohio Harness Horsemen’s Association. “They don’t understand all the jobs involved. You have the racing officials, paddock judges, veterinarians, blacksmiths, horse trainers, grooms and this reaches to all 88 counties in Ohio.”

Miami Valley will employ about 500 in its gaming facility and expects as many as 200 more will be employed around the track during racing sessions.

Simms says Miami Valley isn’t just a video slot palace bolted onto a racetrack. In fact he doesn’t like the term “racino.”

“People call us that, but we’re much more,” he says.

While Miami Valley will encourage those attending races to visit the video slots and vice versa, Simms says, “My experience is that racing and the video games are two different products.”

Video slots players tend to be female and racing attracts more males, he says. Racing is seen as low-cost family entertainment, but no one under 21 will be allowed on the gaming floor.

“We understand what our limitations are and we’ve designed our product and our facility to compete as best we can within those parameters,” Simms says.

Miami Valley Gaming aims to be customer-friendly and a part of the community. “We’re trying to create something that will resonate with our guests,” Simms says.

It’s reflected in things like the name of the bar, 1803, the year Ohio became a state, and the main restaurant, Cin City Steak & Seafood.

Prices will be moderate: the lunch buffet will be under $14 and dinner under $20.

It’s reflected in other features like wide aisles to move around on the gaming floor and padded, adjustable gaming chairs, each costing more than $600.

“Those things matter if you’re going to be sitting down to enjoy a game,” he says.

Miami Valley also invested in a sophisticated Bally gaming system permitting floor-wide bonusing. Players who qualify will be able to compete with each other for additional rewards in races with other players displayed on video screens around the gaming floor.

“People ask me all the time: what’s the hook with VLTs?” he says. “The best two words to describe it are ‘comfortable excitement.’ People want the thrill of winning, but they want to do it an atmosphere where they’re comfortable and they can relax. We’ve put a lot of attention into that.”