Plans for a $50 million quarter horse track and “historical wagering” gambling parlor in Corbin showed signs of life Tuesday after a period of little movement over the past year.
During a meeting of the Corbin Tri-County Joint Industrial Development Authority Tuesday, the board approved the fifth extension to an investment company on an option to purchase the property so that it can be used for the horse track.
The facility will be a partnership between Keeneland and “four or five” investors who are based either locally or in the regional area.
“We had a meeting back in October with those folks,” said Bruce Carpenter, Director of Economic Development for the city of Corbin.
“They’ve been moving forward. What they are trying to finalize is just the documents between individual investors and Keeneland, and with their attorney. It’s just taking a bit more time to finish that.”
An investment company named Willow Creek Farms, LLC has taken out all the options granted so far for future purchase of the property — the remaining 149 acres of the Corbin Tri-County Industrial Park, located off the Corbin Bypass in the Knox County portion of the city. Carpenter said Willow Creek has paid about $60,000 so far on the options. If it does end up purchasing the property, the money paid will be applied to the purchase price. If a deal is scuttled, then Willow Creek loses the money.
Carpenter said Willow Creek plans to buy the property.
Plans for the facility, which will be called “Cumberland Run,” were originally announced in 2014. Vince Gabbert, Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer at Keeneland, initially hoped to have it opened by summer 2016, but the project hit numerous snags.
At one point it was slowed by presence of an endangered species of bat that had a habitat in the area. Then it got mired in litigation when Floyd County and Appalachian Racing filed a lawsuit against the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission in an attempt to prevent the granting of a license to Keeneland for Cumberland Run.
Floyd County and Appalachian Racing jointly owned a now-defunct harness racing track in Prestonsburg that, when it closed, had $2.2 million worth of bonded indebtedness as baggage.
Originally, Keeneland had been negotiating with Floyd County for the license to its harness track. Keeneland’s facility in Corbin was going to be called Thunder Gap. The harness track in Prestonsburg is called Thunder Ridge. Keeneland would have assumed responsibility for the debt when it got the license. But that changed when Keeneland decided to change the name of its facility and opted instead to ask the KHRC for an unassigned ninth racing license. The lawsuit sought to block the move.
The case moved to the Kentucky Court of Appeals last year, and a move was eventually made to take it to the Kentucky Supreme Court.
Carpenter said he does not know where the situation with the license stands, but that “Keeneland feels very comfortable moving forward.”
“As I have stated on numerous occasions, I feel very confident things will continue to move forward and we will hopefully see everything finalized in the next six months,” Carpenter said. “We are heading down the stretch. Hopefully there will be some things moving in the near future.”
Keeneland officials have said the facility would include a track and grandstand, barns, a sales pavilion and ample area for simulcast betting and “instant racing” machines. Instant racing allows bettors to wager on simulated races based on real historical race data, and pick the order of the top finishers. Payoffs are also determined by timing – bettors may be playing different races, but the wagers are lumped into the same pool and the player who hits first receives the highest payoff. Currently, two Kentucky tracks, Ellis Park in Henderson and Kentucky Downs in Franklin, offer instant racing. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission determined in 2010 that instant racing was legal, but it has been embroiled in numerous court battles.
Planners are hoping to tap into the Tennessee market going south to Knoxville. Tennessee allows no form of gambling other than a state lottery.
Gabbert said the track planned for Corbin would have at least 500 to 700 instant racing machines, even larger than instant racing offerings at Kentucky Downs which has a handle of roughly $20 million a month.
While the track would not be multi-use, the facility itself could be used for other types of events. Gabbert said it would be open year-round for “full-card” simulcasting of thoroughbred racing and instant racing.
There are no quarter horse tracks currently in operation in Kentucky, though The Red Mile, in Lexington, has offered quarter horse racing on occasion.
Quarter horse racing is different from thoroughbred or harness racing in that it is often considered the “drag racing” of equine sports. Quarter horse tracks are straight with no turns. Track design dictates how many horses can race, with eight to 10 horses in a typical field. Races are usually 350 to 440 yards in length and the horses cover the distance in a scant 17 to 21 seconds.
Carpenter said Tuesday that the track itself would probably bring an extra 125 to 150 jobs directly to the community, but that its overall impact would be much greater.
“Obviously we look for an increase in commercial development … hotels, restaurants and hopefully retail,” he said. “The total impact is going to be very large, not just for the jobs created on this part of the project, but the other jobs created as a result of this investment.”