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Churchill Downs applies to bring new $200M Latonia Racing & Gaming thoroughbred facility to NKY


By Mark Hansel
KyForward managing editor

Churchill Downs has announced plans to build a new $200 million Latonia Racing and Gaming Facility in Northern Kentucky.

The historic twin spires of Churchill Downs . Churchill Downs has announced plans to build a new $200 million Latonia Racing and Gaming Facility in Northern Kentucky and has requested racing dates traditionally reserved for Turfway Park in Florence (file photo).

Churchill Downs has not identified a location for the new facility, but has applied to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) for the 2020 racing dates traditionally allotted to Turfway Park in Florence.

Turfway Park officials have previously confirmed that they have also requested those dates on the 2020 calendar.

The dates requested include January through March, and December of 2020.

That would include the early March date traditionally reserved for the running of the Grade 3 Jeff Ruby Steaks, Turfway’s Kentucky Derby prep race.

The December 2019 Turfway Holiday Meet would not be impacted because those dates were awarded in 2018, as part of the 2019 Kentucky Thoroughbred Racing calendar.

If the dates requested by Churchill Downs are approved, it would almost certainly bring an end to thoroughbred racing at Turfway Park.

Turfway Park officials declined comment on the proposed new facility.

Northern Kentucky elected officials contacted for comment Thursday evening seemed surprised by the announcement,  but declined comment until more information was available.

In a release, Churchill Downs officials stated that if the dates are approved, races would be run at Churchill Downs until construction of the new facility is completed.

Approval by the KHRC of the Churchill Downs request for racing dates traditionally reserved for Turfway Park would almost certainly be a death knell for Northern Kentucky’s racetrack (file photo).

Hard Rock International purchased Turfway Park in April in a $780 million deal that also included the JACK Cincinnati Casino.

Despite repeated requests from the KHRC, Turfway’s previous ownership has never added the historic racing machines used at other Kentucky race tracks, which are similar in appearance to slot machines.

Payoffs on the historic racing machines are based on previously run, but unidentified horse races, and have become a source of significant additional revenue at tracks that have installed them.Hard Rock International has not indicated whether it plans to install historic racing machines at Turfway.

KHRC officials has become increasingly frustrated with Turfway’s lack of progress and have expressed concerns about the overall decline of the racing product in Northern Kentucky.

In  February, 2018, Turfway Park announced plans for a $25 million renovation of the facility, which would include the installation of instant racing machines.

There have been renovations underway on the ground floor of Turfway Park for several months, which officials had previously indicated was in preparation for installation of the devices.

Despite the construction, however, there has been no date identified for completion of the renovation project or the installation of instant racing machines.

In a statement, Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs Racetrack (CDRT), said the company has a plan to accomplish what Turfway has been unable, or unwilling, to do.

“Churchill Downs is stepping up to protect and grow Kentucky’s Thoroughbred racing circuit,” said Kevin Flanery. “Our willingness to make a sizeable investment in the neglected northern Kentucky market is our latest effort to improve Kentucky’s valuable horse racing and agriculture industries.”

Press release from Churchill Downs outlining plans for a new $200 million Latonia Racing & Gaming thoroughbred facility in Northern Kentucky (click to enlarge).

Phase One of the proposed facility would represent an up to $150 million economic development project that is anticipated to create nearly 400 direct full- and part-time equivalent positions and an estimated 800 direct construction jobs.

The project would include a historical racing machine facility featuring up to 1,500 machines, a state-of-the-art clubhouse, food/beverage venues, a one-mile synthetic main race track,  an inner dirt track and stabling facilities.

The New Latonia is envisioned to remain open year-round as a training facility.

Phase Two could include the addition of a hotel, with an incremental investment of up to $50 million.

Turfway Park faces competition from a number of casinos throughout the region, including Belterra Park in Cincinnati, which also offers wagering on live and simulcast horse races.

Turfway Park now also faces another source of competition for patrons’ wagering dollars.

In May, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which prohibited states from authorizing sports gambling.

The decision paved the way for approval of wagering on sporting events in states where it gains legislative approval.

Indiana recently approved sports wagering and Hollywood Casino in Lawrenceburg, just a few miles from Turfway Park, opened its sports book this week.

Mississippi and several other states have also either approved or are considering  similar measures.

State Sen. Julian Carroll, D-Frankfort, prefiled legislation that would allow sports wagering at horse racing tracks and off-track wagering facility in Kentucky. State Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, is expected to file a similar measure in the House. Koenig declined comment on the proposed new facility Thursday.

Churchill Downs does not specifically identify sports wagering as a potential offering at the proposed new facility, but a venue of that size would easily be able to accommodate a sports book.

Contact Mark Hansel at mark.hansel@nkytrib.com


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