The History of Wheeling IslandWheeling Island’s story is a long, complex and fascinating tale. Originally built in 1937 and named Wheeling Downs, the racetrack evolved over time. In the 1940s, it received a facelift courtesy of new shrubbery and steeps that earned it the nickname “miniature Churchill Downs.”
Wheeling Downs thrived for years until a cold day in 1962 when a fire ravaged the property. The fire caused enough damage to keep the facility closed for five years and made it necessary for the property to be rebuilt.
Wheeling Downs returned in the 1970s and featured harness and flat racing. But when a series of legislative decisions caused attendance and purse sizes to shrink, Wheeling Downs transitioned from horse racing to greyhound racing in 1976. And thus, a new era was born in which Wheeling reached an even greater potential.
Delaware North purchased the property in 1988 and helped guide it through even further expansion. During this time, the entertainment destination opened a new clubhouse, an elegant dining room and a lounge.
These changes prompted Wheeling Downs to introduce off-track betting and video slot games in 1994. In 1999, “reel” slot machines arrived. The gaming center expanded to 34,000 square feet and the Islander Buffet was introduced to keep gamers satisfied and full.
It wasn’t until 2002 that Wheeling Downs officially became known as Wheeling Island Racetrack & Gaming Center. The name change coincided with a $68 million expansion that included a deluxe hotel, new gaming space, a showroom and new restaurant offerings.
In 2008, Wheeling Island changed its name again to Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack. In the same year, the property added table games to its offerings.