Al Capone's Connection to Cleveland's Northfield Park

Ralph DiMatteo History

Al Capone Mugshot Photo

“Every nineteen minutes the place goes crazy” was the slogan for Northfield Park during its heyday of promoting night racing, date nights and, even for a time, a micro brewery. The motto remains, though it's hardly ever heard anymore, and something even more interesting about Northfield Park might just be its ties to one Alphonse Gabriel Capone of Chicago.

The spot where Northfield Park stands today began as Sportsman Park in the early 1920s and was originally a greyhound racing track. Details about the financial woes the track experienced seem to be centered around the fact that greyhound race betting was being debated in the state legislature.

Here is where Al Capone comes into the story, even though the details of how and why are hard to come by. It seems as though his Chicago syndicate saw an opportunity to perhaps tip the scales a bit to help the betting legislation through by investing in the track, most likely at a time when they could buy in for a great price hoping to capitalize on the profits should the betting measure be approved.

That was not to be the case, however, and the track was closed in 1934 when the legislation did not pass.

The park then reopened in 1936 as an auto racing oval, and admittedly we were not able to uncover any evidence that Capone’s syndicate was involved in that venture, but it could be reasonable to assume that if Capone thought that his public involvement would prevent the venture from happening, he may have chosen to remain a “silent partner." Purely a guess, but like we said, a fairly reasonable conclusion, as Capone was never someone to go down without a fight, literally in most cases.

The midget race cars became stock car racing and the track was very successful for 20 years before closing in 1956 to get ready to become what it still is today: Northfield Park, home to harness racing.

Northfield Park became one of the premier harness racing tracks in the country under the ownership of Carl Milstein, who purchased the park in 1972 and brought nighttime racing excitement to the area through a variety of promotions.

You couldn’t turn on local radio or television and not hear one of the commercials with that jingle. On television, you also saw images of younger groups of adults taking part in the fun and energy of date nights at the track. It really became the place to be during the 80s and into the 90s.

Flash forward to 2009 when slot machines were installed, awaiting then-Governor John Kasich’s approval. And just four years later, in December of 2013 with 2,300 betting terminals, the complex was renamed the Hard Rock Rocksino Northfield Park.

The rebranding wasn’t over, as MGM Growth Opportunities bought the property from the Milstein family in 2018 and once again rebranded as MGM Northfield Park, which is how it remains today.

Today, a visit to the property shows Northfield Park and the MGM proudly standing side by side on the very spot that one Mister Al Capone may have stood. But honestly, that really isn’t the biggest part of the story.

What the complex has evolved into has become a jewel to the area and offers something for everyone when they visit: State-of-the-art televisions for viewing any sporting event desired; private, exclusive seating areas; world-class dining; full-service bars; a concert venue; and, of course, Northfield Park’s racing card as well as simulcast racing from other harness tracks around the country.

So while we may have embellished a bit how Capone’s early involvement in the property led to what MGM Northfield Park is today, it's still a pretty cool tale to tell.

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