07/14/2011 2:05PM

Kentucky Downs to install gaming machines


Kentucky Downs, a small racetrack in Franklin, Ky., near the border with Tennessee, will install 200 electronic gambling machines in its grandstand by the opening of its four-day race meet this year on Sept. 10, the track’s president, Corey Johnsen, said on Thursday.

The plans will likely make Kentucky Downs the first racetrack to install gambling machines under a measure approved last year by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission that allows tracks to operate machines that derive their payouts from the results of horse races that have already been run. Kentucky Downs’s application to operate the machines was approved Thursday by the racing commission.

Speaking after the commission vote, Johnsen said that the track will spend $3 million to install the machines and pay for their upkeep. Johnsen also said that he anticipated asking the racing commission for six days of racing in 2012 because of the additional revenues that would be raised by the machines.

The plan carries some risk. The Family Foundation, a group opposed to expanded gambling in Kentucky, has appealed a decision by a Kentucky court upholding the legality of the commission’s decision to allow the machines. Representatives of the foundation attended the Thursday meeting, and afterwards, they continued to maintain that the machines violate state constitutional prohibitions on gambling other than horse races and the lottery.

“We feel we’re on pretty solid legal ground,” Johnsen said.

The machines, which were developed by AmTote and Oaklawn Park, use the results of races to produce random numbers that generate winning combinations. Most of the games on the machines do not use horse racing as a theme.

Racetracks in Kentucky have been aggressively lobbying for expanded gambling over the past several years, but the efforts have so far been unsuccessful. Some racetracks, such as Churchill Downs, have yet to commit to operating the machines under the belief that they are not competitive with more traditional slot machines.

After the meeting, Ellis Park’s owner, Ron Geary, said that he will make a decision following the conclusion of the track’s live meet on Sept. 5 whether to apply to the commission for a license to operate the machines.