Just hours after Keeneland and Churchill Downs announced plans to jointly construct and operate two new racetracks and gaming facilities in Kentucky — one to be built in Corbin — the plan seemed to meet headwind from key members of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.
In a statement released late last Friday night, the chairman of the commission, Frank Kling, and vice chairman, John Roach, threw the plans in peril by saying they had no plans to consider any new licenses to operate additional horse tracks in the state.
“Over the last several months, we have informed Kentucky’s race tracks that we would not consider any applications for new race track facilities in Kentucky. Despite that communication, Churchill and Keeneland have chosen to submit an application for new race track facilities,” the statement said. “At this time, neither of us have any plans to take any action related to this application or any other application for a new race track facility. It is our hope that in the future we will be able to develop a process and criteria to determine whether any new race track facilities are needed in the Commonwealth.”
Officials say they planned to file applications for the license to operate Cumberland Run, in Corbin, and a facility in Christian County last Friday. Keeneland and Churchill
Downs are seeking quarter horse racing dates for Corbin and harness racing dates for Christian County.
The applications include requests for 250 “historical racing” machines in Corbin and 500 in Christian County.
The slot style gaming machines have been the subject of much scrutiny, and an ongoing court case. Opponents claim they are little more than run-of-the-mill casino-style slot machines that are illegal in Kentucky. Supporters say the results the machines produce are based on past races and that wagering on them is considered “pari-mutuel,” just like normal horse racing. Essentially, bettors are betting against other bettors, not against the facility housing the machines.
The machines are currently allowed at tracks in the state with active horse racing and track operators say they serve a vital role in allowing race purses to be higher.
Kentucky has nine racetrack licenses available. Eight are currently taken. Keeneland had announced plans to buy the license for harness racing track in Prestonsburg called Thunder Ridge. The ninth license has never been issued.
Vince Gabbert, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Keeneland, said he feels good about the application.
Bruce Carpenter, Director of Economic Development for the city of Corbin, said he’s worked closely with all parties involved on the project and remained steadfast that the track in Corbin would be constructed.
“I’m just working the project,” he said Tuesday. “I stand by what I’ve said in the past.”
Carpenters said the track would be a “game changing” economic boon to the area.