Groups Say Ellis Park Closure a Symptom

Groups Say Ellis Park Closure a Symptom
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt

The Thoroughbred Racing Associations said July 3 the circumstances surrounding the announced closure of Ellis Park in western Kentucky stem in part from lack of a long-term strategy on the part of horsemen and racetracks.

And the Kentucky Equine Education Project, also July 3, issued a statement blasting Gov. Steve Beshear and the state legislature for failure to address the horseracing industry’s problems. It claims the situation can be remedied by legislative changes but made no mention of expanded gambling, for which it has lobbied.

Ellis Park owner Ron Geary said July 3 the track wouldn’t open as scheduled July 4 for its 44-day meet. According to reports, there is an outside chance negotiations could continue between the track and Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association over advance deposit wagering revenue.

Chris Scherf, executive vice president of the TRA, issued the following statement regarding Geary’s announcement to shutter Ellis Park:

“I deeply regret Ron Geary, a racetrack owner with great love of the sport and an overwhelming desire to serve the pari-mutuel wagering public, has been forced to close Ellis Park, an esteemed member of the TRA since 1974 and a western Kentucky attraction for more than 80 years. I’m also gravely concerned about the circumstances surrounding this serious and unnecessary development. Racetracks and participating horsemen share a common interest in distributing their simulcast signal as widely as possible for the best possible revenue return, which Ellis Park clearly had done.

“Unfortunately, some horsemen’s groups believe their share can be increased beyond prevailing market rates by forcing the tracks to agree to a minimum pricing structure set forth by a new, third-party organization. Tracks have been unwilling to pursue this approach because of legitimate business and legal concerns.

“Before additional damage is done to the racing industry, horsemen and racetracks must see the difference between short-term gains and a long-term strategy to be developed jointly. One side dictating to the other clearly will not work.

“I strongly suggest horsemen’s groups end the strategy currently being employed by some. Instead, it would be in everyone’s best interest for individual horsemen’s groups to evaluate each simulcast agreement on its own merits and not unreasonably withhold consent, while at the same time working with the racetracks for the future improvement of the pari-mutuel business model.”

The Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Group, formed in December 2007, is negotiating ADW contracts for some horsemen’s groups.

As for KEEP, it said the announced closure of Ellis Park “should resonate like an explosion in the halls of Frankfort (the state capital).” KEEP said it’s a symptom of Kentucky being behind other states that have received legislative assistance.

“For some time, KEEP has been warning our elected leadership that our breeding and racing industries were at a severe competitive disadvantage with our surrounding states,” the group’s statement said. “We have continued to see horsemen move their operations to other states with higher purses and larger breeder award programs. Given that environment, it was only a matter of time before we started losing racetracks.

“We know there are many complexities to the decision to close Ellis Park. When added together, no business could withstand what our racing industry has faced for the last decade and not make significant changes. Other states have implemented aggressive means of funding purses and changed their state legislation, which is essentially stealing our horse industry.

“We can no longer passively sit by and wait for our signature industry to leave our state. Now is the time for bold and serious leadership in Frankfort. We call on the governor and members of the General Assembly to focus squarely on the competitive problems facing our industry. The KEEP board of directors and its thousands of members stand ready to work with our leadership to protect and strengthen Kentucky’s horse industry.”

Though the statement made no mention of slot machines or video lottery terminals, the devices have been the "agressive means for funding purses" in other states. Geary in the past said Ellis Park’s future was questionable given its inability to offer expanded gambling to increase purses.

Gaming legislation failed to win support in the Kentucky General Assembly again this year.

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