Kentucky Casino Bill Readied, But Racetracks Mum
by Tom LaMarra
Date Posted: 2/26/2004 7:45:17 AM
Last Updated: 2/27/2004 7:52:04 PM

A Louisville legislator is prepared to file a bill to authorize a constitutional amendment on casino gambling in Kentucky under a scenario in which gaming wouldn't be limited to racetracks.

Already, foes of expanded gambling are saying the plan for non-track casinos would simply make the referendum easier to defeat. Clark told the Lexington Herald-Leader the racetracks are on board, but track officials who have participated in negotiations on the bill haven't returned telephone calls for the better part of a week.

Clark said the bill would be finalized Feb. 26 and perhaps introduced Feb. 27. It would call for a November referendum on casino gambling.

In January, the horse racing industry, called "signature" by some in Kentucky, had a plan to limit casinos to the state's eight racetracks, but apparently it had no legislative support. In earlier interviews with The Blood-Horse, industry participants said they believe horse racing and breeding don't have the clout they should given the industry's economic contributions to the state.

Under the proposal by Democratic Rep. Larry Clark, six racetracks in five markets would get casinos: Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky Downs in Franklin, Turfway Park in Florence, and Thunder Ridge Raceway in Prestonsburg. Keeneland and The Red Mile would operate one facility in Lexington.

That leaves Ellis Park in Henderson and Bluegrass Downs in Paducah out of the mix. If comments made to the Herald-Leader are any indication, Clark apparently believes racetrack owners would reap too much if all the tracks, many of which have common ownership ties, had casinos.

Ellis Park is owned by Churchill Downs Inc., which owns the flagship Louisville track. Bluegrass Downs, a harness track, is owned by Harrah's Entertainment, a one-third owner of Turfway. Brad Kelley, one of the largest shareholders in CDI, owns a big chunk of Kentucky Downs. Keeneland owns one-third of Turfway, which owns part of Kentucky Downs.

"I thought that was more than enough for one identity," Clark told the Herald-Leader of the plan to leave Ellis Park out of the mix. "I'm trying to spread it out so we have more investors."

The non-track casinos would be located in Owensboro, a city just east of Ellis Park; on Interstate 75, presumably near the border of Tennessee, where the only legalized gambling is a new state lottery; along I-24, which runs from Paducah to the Tennessee border; and at one more site to be selected by a new gambling commission.

In earlier interviews, track officials said privately the tracks that don't have casinos would be compensated through a revenue-sharing plan, details of which remain unavailable. In addition, the non-track casinos apparently would contribute revenue to the racing industry, but again, details are unavailable.

The situation unfolding in Kentucky somewhat resembles one in Maryland, where a proposal to have slot machines at racetracks morphed into a plan to have slots at some tracks and also at non-racing facilities in strategic locations. The slots plan, even though it had the support of the governor, has stalled for more than a year.

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