Keeneland plans to offer historical racing at a new 40,000-square foot facility to be built on the property and scheduled to open in July 2015.
The new Keeneland Event Center will offer 600 Instant Racing games and will house the track's simulcast operations. Except for big simulcast days like the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and Kentucky Oaks (gr. I), all simulcast wagering will move to the new facility, which will offer Sportsbook style seating.
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission approved the plan, which calls for Keeneland to build the new facility near Gate 1, at its regularly scheduled meeting April 2. The new event center will be adjacent to the Keene Barn, which is located toward Lexington on the Keeneland property.
"We are excited about this new facility, and what it means for the horse industry and the community," said Keeneland chief operating officer Vince Gabbert. "Every initiative we undertake has to support a connection to those two constituencies. This will be an entertainment experience built around Thoroughbred racing, designed to attract new fans and to provide revenue to invest in purse money for horsemen and programs that enhance the horse business and the Central Kentucky community."
Instant Racing machines have the feel of slot machines but payouts are based on pari-mutuel wagering tied to previously run horse races. The KHRC approved the machines in 2010 and Keeneland would be the third Thoroughbred track in the state to add the machines. Also Wednesday, the KHRC approved a plan to add 500 of the machines at the Red Mile in a facility that will be next to the Lexington harness track's grandstand.
Gabbert expects the Keeneland machines to handle about $1 million a day. That $30 million monthly handle estimate would fall in between the approximately $107 million a month handled at Kentucky Downs and the $7.6 million handled at Ellis Park. Kentucky Downs is located near the Tennessee border and faces little competition for the gambling dollar while Ellis Park competes with nearby Indiana casinos on the Ohio River.
"We feel like we'll be somewhere in the middle in terms of performance of what we've seen at Kentucky Downs and Ellis Park based on the market size, the competition, and everything else," Gabbert said.
Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association executive director Marty Maline was excited about the potential of the new machines at Keeneland and expects horsemen in the state to reach a deal similar to the ones in place at Kentucky Downs and Ellis Park. The machines feature a 7.89% takeout with 14% of that figure going to purses and 1% to the Breeders' Incentive Fund. A 1.5% tax on the machines also generates money for the industry, with half of that tax going to the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund.
From Sept. 1, 2011, through Jan. 31, 2014, Instant Racing machines at the two tracks generated $5.1 million for the purse fund, $366,670 for the Breeders' Incentive Fund, and nearly $4.3 million for the KTDF. The Kentucky Legislature will continue to commit half of the 1.5% tax on the machines to the KTDF.
The Kentucky Supreme Court recently ruled that the KHRC did have the ability to authorize Instant Racing in the state but also ruled that opponents could pursue discovery in lower courts. While litigation could continue, Gabbert does not expect a major change on Instant Racing policy in the state.
The new facility will feature new blacktop parking spaces that Gabbert said would largely be located behind the new building.
"When you drive up, you'll see it as the same old Keeneland," Gabbert said.
KHRC chairman Bob Beck called Wednesday, "a good day for racing in this state."
According to Keeneland, proceeds from its racing and sales operations have funded more than $20 million in contributions to charitable and equine-related programs since its inception. In recent years, Keeneland has evolved into one of Central Kentucky's leading multi-use sites, hosting thousands of visitors and numerous community, charitable, and corporate events year-round. Last year, more than 24,000 people participated in run/walks held at Keeneland that raised more than $1.1 million for a variety of non-profit organizations.
"We continually look for ways to engage the entire Keeneland campus and to provide exciting entertainment opportunities for the community," Gabbert said. "The Keeneland Event Center is yet another piece of the puzzle, complementing the Keene Barn, Keene Place, the Library, and the tailgating area we've dubbed 'The Hill.' All of these positively impact tourism and hospitality in the region."
The Keeneland Event Center will offer:
• Simulcast wagering operations, which will be moved from its current location in the Keeneland grandstand to a state-of-the-art sports book setting, featuring 200 individual work stations, multiple HD TVs, mutuel clerks, and self-service wagering machines;
• 600 Instant Racing machines;
• Casually elegant dining ranging from a café to a sports bar, providing food service for 200 people; and
• Parking for 650 cars, including valet.
"We have a responsibility to use all of the tools at our disposal to better our industry, and Instant Racing provides another means for us to invest in our core business," Gabbert said.