Kentucky Downs

Kentucky Downs

Ron Mitchell

KY Downs to Launch Instant Racing Sept. 1

Track on Tennessee border will be first in Kentucky to expand wagering options.

Kentucky Downs will inaugurate Instant Racing in Kentucky Sept. 1 and believes the form of pari-mutuel wagering can help restore “vibrancy” to the state’s horse racing industry.

A brief opening ceremony will be held at the racetrack on the Tennessee border at 10 a.m. CDT Sept. 1. Operation of the machines is subject to approval by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.

Instant Racing, known as “historical racing” in Kentucky, is a pari-mutuel system that allows players to wager on previously run horse races in a video lottery terminal-like format. Developed in 2000 by Oaklawn Park in association with AmTote and other investors, Instant Racing marked the first effort by racing interests to merge video gaming with horse racing.

The games have generated tens of millions of dollars in purses for Oaklawn over the years. The Arkansas track, however, also has electronic games of skill such as video card games.

Kentucky Downs received unanimous approval of its application for an Instant Racing license from the KHRC in July. Kentucky Downs started renovation of the first floor of its clubhouse to create the venue for an Instant Racing gaming center.

Kentucky Downs will start with 200 machines featuring six different games. The gaming center will be open Sunday through Thursday from 10 a.m. until 2 a.m., and Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 a.m., officials said.

Eventually the track could have 500 machines, officials said.

The other seven racetracks in the state have taken a wait-and-see approach to Instant Racing. Though the regulations have been approved by the KHRC and the state Attorney General’s office has issued an opinion Instant Racing is pari-mutuel, an appeals court hasn’t yet ruled on the games.

The action by Kentucky Downs is seen as a bold but necessary step by many in the horse racing industry in the state given the outstanding court ruling.

“We could not be more excited about taking the next steps in our plans to fully develop Kentucky Downs as a year-round entertainment destination,” Kentucky Downs president Corey Johnsen said in a statement. “With the unanimous support of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, Kentucky Downs will lead the way in bringing expanded gaming options to Kentucky and to generate many positive benefits for both the local economy and for the Kentucky horse industry.”

Though Instant Racing isn't expected to generate the revenue that could come from video lottery terminals or slot machines, it does provide benefits under pari-mutuel statutes. For instance, each dollar wagered in the machines is treated like an ontrack bet, so purses and the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund will be supported accordingly.

Johnsen said Instant Racing, despite skepticism by some track operators, can generate millions of dollars a year for purses and breed development funds. Of the other tracks in the state, only Ellis Park and Turfway Park have expressed enthusiasm over the possibilities.

“These new revenues will, over time, help the Kentucky horse industry compete with states that have taken race horses and breeding stock away from the state,” Johnsen said. “We are convinced that Instant Racing can and will have a significant positive impact on the Commonwealth in terms of job creation, investment in the state, and restoring the vibrancy to Kentucky’s signature industry.”

The Kentucky Downs project has the support of the Franklin-Simpson County Chamber of Commerce in a predominantly conversative region of the state.

“Kentucky Downs has long been a significant employer in Franklin as well as a well-thought-of corporate citizen of our community,” said Steve Thurmond, executive director of the chamber.  “We are thrilled that the owners of Kentucky Downs are making the investment in its Instant Racing operation and are grateful for the creation of so many new jobs for residents of Franklin, Simpson County, and the surrounding area.”

Kentucky Downs is located less than one hour from Nashville, Tenn. That state has no other legalized gambling outside of a state lottery.

Kentucky Downs, which offers only turf racing, will begin its four-day live racing meet Sept. 10. It is open year-round for full-card simulcasts and said it will expand its simulcast offerings when Instant Racing goes online.