03/18/2014 3:18PM

Keeneland, Red Mile apply for Instant Racing licenses


LEXINGTON, Ky. – Lexington’s two racetracks, Keeneland and the Red Mile, have separately applied to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission for licenses to operate Instant Racing machines, the slot machine-like devices already operated by two Thoroughbred tracks in the state, according to officials with knowledge of the applications.

The applications will be discussed at the commission’s April 2 meeting, according to the officials. The filing of the applications was first reported by the Blood-Horse.

The applications could result in two separate gambling parlors opening in Fayette County at a time when the state’s legislature has balked at addressing legislation supported by the racing industry to authorize casinos at the state’s racetracks. Legislative leaders have said recently that they do not expect any expanded gambling legislation to move this year, and the filing of the applications has created some speculation that the efforts are designed in part to increase the urgency among legislators to consider a bill.

Vince Gabbert, Keeneland’s chief operating officer, would not confirm or deny Monday that the association had filed an application.

“We don’t have anything we can share right now,” Gabbert said. “We will probably be able to talk more in the next couple weeks as the commission’s agenda becomes known.”

Susan Speckert, the legal counsel for the commission, said she could not comment on whether the commission had received any applications. The agenda for the April 2 commission meeting likely will be released within a week of the date.

The Red Mile, a struggling Standardbred track, would operate its machines at its central Lexington property, with significant renovations to its facility, according to the officials. However, it is not clear where Keeneland would seek to place the machines, but the association has two options: its landmark, park-like facility off Versailles Road or the Thoroughbred Center, a year-round training facility on Paris Pike north of the city.

In 2010, Kentucky’s racing commission authorized Instant Racing machines for the state’s racetracks and for the Sports Spectrum, an offtrack betting facility and training center owned by Churchill Downs, neglecting the state’s other licensed training centers. However, the commission could pass a new rule authorizing the machines at the Thoroughbred Center, allowing Keeneland to avoid the criticism that would surely follow a decision to put the machines at any location on the Versailles Road property.

Because of a recent court ruling that failed to resolve a dispute over the legality of the machines, the application appears out of character for Keeneland, which usually shies from pursuing politically controversial decisions. In that ruling, issued in February, the state’s Supreme Court upheld the racing commission’s authority to promulgate rules regulating the machines, but it also said a lower court would need to rehear a legal challenge mounted by an anti-casino group. The case is expected to go forward later this year.

Instant Racing machines are already in operation at Kentucky Downs, in Franklin near the border with Tennessee, and at Ellis Park in western Kentucky, just over the river from Evansville, Ind., and its two casinos. The machines are similar to slot machines, but they use the results of previously run horse races to generate numbers to determine payouts.