Churchill Downs and Keeneland will operate jointly Kentucky’s first new harness racetrack in 25 years
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission selected on Friday Churchill Downs and Keeneland Inc. as the winning bidders for the construction of a harness racetrack and a gambling parlor in Western Kentucky. Their joint venture will be the first racetrack to be built in the state in 25 years.
Churchill Downs and Keeneland have presented a plan to jointly develop and operate a $150-million racetrack in Oak Grove in Chistian County. The latter company will only own 5% in the project.
The winning bidders will build a five-eighths of a mile racetrack that will host 12 days of standardbred races. Construction is expected to begin as early as next year. The new complex will also feature 1,500 historical racing machines. Last month, a Circuit Court Judge ruled that these machines were pari-mutuel, which made them legal under Kentucky laws that guard gambling on horse racing.
Churchill Downs opened a gambling parlor with historical racing machines at its Louisville property earlier this year.
The machines have been estimated to have produced over $21 million for the state’s coffers since 2010. Churchill Downs Racetrack President Kevin Flanery told media that they expect the machines at their new property to annually generate $10 million.
The new racetrack complex will also include a 125-room hotel with an event center, food and beverage facilities, a 3,000-person outdoor amphitheater, a 1,200-person seat-grandstand with space for indoor events, and a modern equestrian center, among other facilities.
The new Oak Grove track is expected to create 800 construction jobs and 400 full- and part-time jobs once operational. The venue will be located along I-24 on the Kentucky-Tennessee border, aiming to draw visitors from Nashville.
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Losing Bidders Voice Disappointment
Kentucky Downs in Franklin and Caesars-Bluegrass Downs in Paducah were the other two bidders for the new racetrack license. Both expressed disappointment and frustration with the bidding process.
News emerged earlier this week that racehorse owner Ron Winchell and former casino analyst Marc Falcone would buy a majority interest in Kentucky Downs for an undisclosed purchase price. Mr. Falcone told local media on Friday that they felt the selection process needed more time to be well thought out.
The new Kentucky Downs owners also revealed that they would enhance a previously announced expansion plan at the racetrack in order to make it more competitve now as a new player is entering the state’s horse racing field.
Comments by Caesars Entertainment executive Dan Real showed that the company was frustrated with losing the bid, arguing that Churchill Downs and Keeneland had no signed horsemen agreements and no history and relationships in the region, something the other bidders clearly had.
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