02/10/2012 12:11PM

Churchill Downs increases stake in Kentucky Downs


Churchill Downs Inc. has purchased an additional 5 percent stake in Kentucky Downs, a small track in Franklin near the border with Tennessee, bringing the company’s minority share in the track to 10 percent.

The acquisition by Churchill comes in advance of the likely introduction of state legislation next week that would place a referendum on the November ballot asking voters to approve casino-type gambling, most likely at the state’s racetracks. The legislation is supported by Gov. Steve Beshear and other Democrats.

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission is scheduled to approve the acquisition at a meeting on Wednesday. Also at the meeting, the commission is being asked to approve a request by Kentucky Downs to add an additional 75 Instant Racing machines, which are devices that use the results of previously run races to generate random numbers that determine payouts. Kentucky Downs installed 200 of the machines in the fall of 2011.

The majority share of Kentucky Downs, 85 percent, is owned by a group headed by Corey Johnsen and Ray Reid. Turfway Park, which is owned by a partnership of Keeneland and Caesars Entertainment, owns the other 5 percent.

The introduction of the legislation providing for a referendum on casino gambling has been one of the most talked-about initiatives of the 2012 legislative session. On Thursday, a group led by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce formed a lobbying group that said it would raise money to spend on a campaign to support the referendum.

“We have a very simple goal,” said Dave Adkisson, the president of the Kentucky Chamber, a private group that supports business, at a press conference. “Let the people decide.”

Also on Thursday, State Sen. Damon Thayer, a Republican who is working with Beshear on the gambling legislation, released a list of the clients of his self-owned public-relations company in response to criticism from some anti-gambling groups that the clients would benefit from casinos gambling. The clients included two farms, Wintergreen Stallion Station and Millenium Farms, which could indirectly benefit from subsidies to racing provided by Kentucky casinos.

“I can unequivocally state that none of my company’s private sector clients stand to benefit from simply letting the people decide whether Kentucky should expand gambling,” Thayer said in a statement accompanying the client list.