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Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, others object to Keeneland-Churchill Downs plan for new tracks

Staff report

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and other groups are pushing back on the plan announced by Churchill Downs and Keeneland to build two new racetrack facilities in Oak Grove and Corbin.

A statement released by Franklin S. Kling Jr., president of the racing commission and Vice Chairman John C. Roach said the commission has said repeatedly it would not consider “any applications for new racetrack facilities in Kentucky.”

“Despite that communication,” the statement said, “Churchill and Keeneland have chosen to submit an application…

“At this time neither of us have any plans to take any action related to this application or any other application for a new racetrack facility. It is our hope that in the future we will be able to develop a process and criteria to determine whether any new racetrack facilities are needed in the Commonwealth.”

Corey Johnsen, president of Kentucky Downs in Franklin, also objected to the Churchill Downs-Keeneland plan.

Corey Johnsen

“We are disappointed at the announcement of Churchill Downs and Keeneland’s plans to pursue a racetrack license in Oak Grove,” said Johnsen, “Nashville is the primary market for Kentucky Downs. A track a short drive away in Oak Grove would provide undue competition to Kentucky Downs’ already-established and successful historical horse racing, simulcasting and live-racing operations.

“It makes no sense to put a new track in an existing track’s market. We would never consider applying for a racetrack license in close proximity to Louisville or Lexington, such as Elizabethtown or Georgetown.

“We just completed a record-shattering meet, paying horsemen the best purses in North America while getting accolades from horseplayers for keeping our takeout rates low. We have worked hard to be a good citizen and improve the entire Kentucky circuit. In the past, Kentucky Downs has sent Kentucky-bred purse supplements to the state’s other thoroughbred tracks, including Churchill Downs and Keeneland. In cooperation with the Kentucky HBPA, we moved $3 million in purses and KTDF funds to Ellis Park the past two summers, kindling that track’s own record meets, thereby keeping racehorses and jobs in the commonwealth to the benefit of everyone, including Churchill and Keeneland’s fall meets.”

A concept drawing of the Oak Grove facility (Provided)

Richard Nelson, Executive Director of the Commonwealth Policy Center says, “This announcement is premature due to the pending legal case concerning instant racing in Franklin Circuit Court and the fact that the 2016 General Assembly rejected a bill to establish the regulatory framework for instant racing in Kentucky.”

Nelson believes this type of gambling is very different than live horse racing because it’s available every day, it’s more addictive, and casino-style gambling acts as a drain on local economies.  

Alan Mallach, a former Senior Fellow at the Center for Community Progress in New York, told the Lexington Herald-Leader, “Casino gambling does not create a single new dollar. Every dollar dropped into a slot machine is a dollar not spent on something else. It’s not like you’ve got an auto plant and you’re building cars to be shipped and sold around the world.”

In a 2012 article in U.S. News and World Reports, John Warren Kindt, Professor of Business and Legal Policy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign says, “Sports gambling is also known as the “gateway drug” to gambling addiction.”

“This may seem like a good idea to casino interests,” Nelson said. “But the best version of Kentucky doesn’t put our families at risk.”

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