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Geary: Ellis Park Could Lure Casino Customers

The Henderson racetrack is the second in Kentucky approved for Instant Racing.

The president of Ellis Park said Oct. 24 he believes implementation of Instant Racing early next year could help the Henderson, Ky., track attract some of the customers in the area who have been whetting their gambling appetite by going to a nearby casino in Indiana.

Shortly after the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission approved Ellis Park's request to become the second Kentucky track to offer the form of electronic gaming, track owner Ron Geary said he believes some are residents who have frequented Casino Aztar in nearby Evansville, Ind., will opt to do their gambling at Ellis Park instead.

“It’s an older casino, smaller, and in bankruptcy, so it’s dated and they have not done the upgrades,” Geary said of the casino, in reference to why he believes some of those in the estimated 40,000 cars that pass Ellis Park daily will decide to try their luck with Instant Racing.

Instant Racing proved to be an instant success when Kentucky Downs in Franklin, Ky., began gaming with 200 machines in September.

Instant Racing is technically 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.

During its monthly meeting, the KHRC gave unanimous approval for Ellis Park to begin Instant Racing with 252 machines. The Ellis Park application said Instant Racing will be offered seven days a week, 13-15 hours a day, along with the track’s expanded offering of simulcast horse racing. Geary estimated the new games would begin between late January and early March 2012.

Geary estimated it will cost the track $2.8 million to $3.2 million in renovations, leasing, and other costs associated with implementation of Instant Racing. He said the track will be hiring between 65 to 85 new full-time employees and that once the games have been operational for a full 12 months, they should help Ellis Park increase purses by 40%-50%.

He also said Instant Racing at Ellis Park is estimated to generate about $2 million annually in taxes to the state once during its first full year of operation.

Like Corey Johnsen, president of Kentucky Downs, Geary said he decided to proceed with installing Instant Racing machines and to begin getting the revenue from them even though there is a lawsuit challenging its legality currently before the state Court of Appeals.

“It’s an entrepreneurial risk,” Geary said, “but from our perspective purses have been in decline for the last few years. We can’t let it decline much further.”

Geary said Ellis will follow Kentucky Downs’ format of a “soft opening” for the new gaming, with low-key marketing.