Instant Racing Poised to Expand in Kentucky

Ellis Park is latest track to submit application for Instant Racing.

With Instant Racing off to a successful start at Kentucky Downs, other tracks in the Bluegrass state are making plans to usher in the form of electronic gaming.

Ellis Park in Henderson has submitted a draft application to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission for Instant Racing and also plans to resume year-round simulcasting, effective Jan. 1, 2012. (In 2010, Ellis did not offer simulcasting from Jan. 1 through March due to financial considerations related to having the facility open during that period.)

On Oct. 13, the KHRC staff confirmed Ellis Park had submitted a draft application and that details would be available once the final application was received. Ellis Park owner Ron Geary said in an email that he was not prepared to release more details of the track’s plan for Instant Racing, including the projected start date or how many machines the track wanted to have installed.

Geary told the Evansville Courier-Press that the track has begun preliminary work to renovate a portion of the clubhouse to accommodate Instant Racing. He estimated Instant Racing would begin in the spring of 2012 with up to 300 machines. Geary said daily purses at Ellis are estimated to increase to about $240,000 from the 2010 figure of about $150,000 once the machines are operational, according to the Courier-Press.

Resembling slot machines, Instant Racing machines determine winners based on results of previously run horse races that are not identified to the bettor. The race on which the wagering outcome is determined is shown for about three seconds on a screen that is part of the machine. The KHRC and state attorney general’s office have deemed Instant Racing, technically called historical racing in Kentucky, legal because it is a form of legalized pari-mutuel wagering.

Kentucky Downs president Corey Johnsen said during an Oct. 11 meeting of the KHRC dates committee that total wagering at the Franklin, Ky., track tripled during a three-week period as a result of the 200 Instant Racing machines that began operating in early September. “It has been very positive so far,” Johnsen said. “It allows us to efficiently to promote all our products.”

Johnsen said having Instant Racing seven days a week has also enabled Kentucky Downs to offer horse racing simulcasts all week, compared with five days a week previously.

“I have seen some crossover between Instant Racing and simulcasting fans,” Johnsen said.

The legality of the machines has been challenged, with an opinion from the state Court of Appeals pending.

While Kentucky Downs and Ellis Park are eager to embrace Instant Racing, representatives of two tracks located in urban areas that would want to install a larger number of are awaiting the outcome of the litigation before making too much of a financial commitment.

Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs, said his track and Turfway Park in Northern Kentucky have to view their approach in Instant Racing differently because both tracks either already or will soon face legalized casino-style wagering nearby in border states.

“The calculus of it—for example, how much do I spend?—is very different, but we are very interested in it and all options are on the table as soon as those (legal) issues are resolved,” Flanery said.

Bob Elliston, president of Turfway in Northern Kentucky, said the track has invested approximately $100,000 in preliminary work on Instant Racing and is looking at a much larger number of machines than have been installed at Kentucky Downs.

"It would be a joke for us to put 200 machines in our competitive marketplace,” Elliston said. “We have to put something that creates a complete experience and builds from zero to 120 miles per hour from the get-go because we are already in a competitive gaming market.

“We cannot invest $3 million and install 200 machines and be able to compete with casino gaming in Ohio.”