Churchill Downs Seeks Commission Approval for Instant Racing Machines

Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to Consider Churchill Downs Request for Instant Racing Machines

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission on Tuesday is expected to consider Churchill Downs request to add historical wagering, also known as instant racing. Similar to a slot machine, bettors wager on a previously decided horse race and the player makes a pick before the race is revealed.

Churchill Downs officials have been considering the machines at the Louisville track since the end of last year, but have been waiting to request approval from the KHRC in hopes that a full casino could gain legislative approval. But with conservative Gov. Matt Bevin unlikely to expand gambling in the state, Churchill Downs will look for approval of the Instant Racing Machines.

The KHRC is scheduled to meet Tuesday afternoon at the Kentucky Horse Park.

Kentucky Downs, near the Tennessee border, was the first track in the state to get historical wagering in 2011. The following year, Ellis Park on the Western end of the state added Instant Racing Machines. A third parlor opened in 2015 at the Red Mile in Lexington, which is owned and operated in partnership with Keeneland Racecourse.  Since 2011, the machines have generated almost $2 billion in revenue for the Kentucky track owners while simultaneously boosting purses. Horsemen received less than 1 percent of gross revenue generated from the machines.

Churchill Downs and a nearby training center that is also owned by Churchill are two sites being considered for a parlor to provide the racing machines.

Turfway Park in northern Kentucky has also received approval to operate the machines, but the track’s owners have not yet decided whether to go forward with a project at the track, which, like Churchill, faces competition from casinos in nearby Cincinnati.

According to KHRC records, handle on the devices statewide this year through May was $839.0 million, up 44.5 percent from the same period last year, with handle up sharply at both the Kentucky Downs and Red Mile parlors. The gross commission on that handle was $65.3 million, with $12.6 million remitted to a variety of other sources, including $6.6 million to purses for Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds. Track owners retained the rest, $52.7 million, for a gross return on handle through the machines of 6.3 percent.

The machines at Kentucky Downs have drawn $520 million in wagers this year through May, branding the parlor there as the most lucrative location for the machines in Kentucky.

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