The odds of Kentucky legalizing casino gambling got a little longer this week after a racing lobbying group dropped its support of the idea. On Friday, the Kentucky Equine Education Project (KEEP), a group representing the state’s racing interests that had been at the forefront of the push to bring casino gambling to state racetracks, announced it would no longer support casino legislation.
For years now, Kentucky-based racing and casino operator Churchill Downs Inc. has been pushing state legislators to pass a casino bill but pushback has come from anti-gambling Republicans and some of the state’s other racing interests, who fear race betting will decline if casinos were allowed to open. Kentucky Democrats, who control the state’s House of Representatives, have said the casino issue is a non-starter in 2015.
KEEP treasurer Doug Cauthen said his group’s newly ambivalent position on casinos didn’t apply to Instant Racing machines, the slots-like video terminals that allow gamblers to wager on ‘historical’ racing. Instant Racing is currently operating at Kentucky Downs and Ellis Park, with Red Mile and a harness track at Corbin set to add their own machines. Instant Racing has added $7.5m to racing purses and the additional facilities are expected to boost that figure to $10m per year.
Cauthen told the Daily Racing Form that KEEP could “clearly see the benefits and projected benefits of Instant Racing. But we can’t see what a casino would or wouldn’t be.” Kevin Flanery, president of the Churchill Downs track, told the Courier-Journal that “any effort to limit gaming to [Instant Racing] is short-sighted for the industry and the state.” Flanery noted that Ellis Park’s Instant Racing business hasn’t been as lucrative as the machines at Kentucky Downs, in part because of Ellis Park’s proximity to a casino across the border in Indiana.
Through the first 11 months of 2014, race wagering across the USA is down 2.4% from the same period last year, according to racing industry statisticians Equibase. The number of race dates has fallen 2.2% while the value of purses is off 0.7%.