The president of Kentucky Downs said the Franklin, Ky. track is nearing completion of work needed to implement a form of Instant Racing and that it will be a “first class” operation and that the opening date will be announced soon.
“It’s first class and is going to be a very nice addition to our place,” said Corey Johnsen, Kentucky Downs' president, Aug. 17 following the monthly Kentucky Horse Racing Commission meeting. “There are no problems.”
Initially, 200 of the machines will be installed at the track and will be operational prior to the Sept. 10 opening of Kentucky Downs’ four-day all-turf meet. Johnsen said the actual date would likely be announced later this week.
Technically, the new form of wagering is called Historical Race Wagering in Kentucky, but the machines are the same ones used in the successful Instant Racing concept at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas. While the machines resemble traditional video lottery or slot machines, the payoffs rely upon the outcomes of previously run races that are unknown to the player. A lawsuit over the machines’ legality is pending, but Kentucky Downs is proceeding with the implementation of the new wagering format.
At the KHRC meeting, AmTote was approved to operate the Instant Racing machines in Kentucky, where United Tote is the primary totalizator provider. Also, the regulatory body approved Gaming Laboratories International to be the authorized entity to test the machines to make sure they function properly.
Johnsen said his initial concerns about staffing and installation have abated and that he is now moving forward with plans for the first gaming to take place. Kentucky Downs received about 500 applications during a job fair for the 85 new positions at the track created by the addition of Instant Racing. Johnsen said most of the new hires were from the South Central Kentucky area where Kentucky Downs is located.
Johnsen said he has called upon several racetrack industry veterans with whom he has worked previously to assist with some of the logistics required to get Instant Racing underway. He said Ann McGovern, a former executive at Sam Houston Race Park and Ruidoso Downs, is at Kentucky Downs to help lend her expertise on electronic gaming. Jeff Greco, a former executive at Lone Star Park, is assisting Kentucky Downs with its food and beverage operations.
Marketing of Instant Racing will be low-key, Johnsen said, noting that most of the effort will be put into direct marketing. He also said that a major effort has been made to have a players’ program that will track the activity of Instant Racing bettors.
“We want to make this as simple as possible, logistically and regulatory wise,” Johnsen said. “We have to be very careful how we market.”
He said there would be a “soft opening” of two nights in which invited guests would be in attendance to wager on the machines before they became operational on a daily basis.
Johnsen said Kentucky Downs would eventually have 500 Instant Racing machines, but that they were starting with 200 due to the pending lawsuit over their legality and because of a limited supply of the machines. He said executives from Oaklawn Park, which is being paid a licensing fee by Kentucky Downs, have been on hand to assist with the construction and installation of the machines.
Other than the approvals related to the Instant Racing, the KHRC meeting was routine. During his monthly report, state veterinarian Bryce Peckham said there had been one fatality during the first 15 days of the race meet at Ellis Park.
The KHRC also approved a request from Turfway Park to change its Saturday post time from 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. (EDT) for the fall and holiday race meets, with the exception of Sept. 24 for the Kentucky Cup card.
The commission also met in executive session but took no action. Lisa Underwood, the KHRC executive director, said the commission was unable to adjourn once they went back into open session because one member had left during the closed session, meaning they no longer had a quorum necessary to conduct official business. At the next commission meeting, they will begin in open session, adjourn, and then reconvene.