06/22/2009 11:00PM

Owner says Ellis Park will close after 2009


Ron Geary, the owner of Ellis Park in western Kentucky, said that the track will close after the 2009 meet and that he will not apply for racing dates next year in light of failed legislation to legalize slot machines at Kentucky racetracks.

Geary, who purchased Ellis three years ago from Churchill Downs Inc. for an undisclosed sum that Churchill characterized as "immaterial" to its financial statements, said that the track will remain closed even if slots legislation is reintroduced next year in the Kentucky legislature. Geary cited competitive pressure from tracks in neighboring Indiana that began operating slot machines this year.

"It's going to get even worse next year," Geary said. "Even if they pass something next year, it would take 16 to 18 months to get any revenues from it."

The Republican-dominated Senate Budget Committee killed the bill Monday on a 10-5 vote that was largely along party lines. The legislation passed the Democrat-led House on Friday, but Republicans had said since the beginning of a special session that began on June 15 that they would not allow slots legislation to pass.

Geary, the chairman and former chief executive of a nursing-home company in Louisville, served in the 1980s as Kentucky's secretary of revenue under Gov. John Y. Brown, a Democrat. In some Democratic circles, Geary has been considered as a potential nominee for governor.

The Kentucky racing industry had mounted an aggressive public-relations campaign over the past three months to drum up support for the legislation, which would have given Kentucky racetracks a monopoly on slot machines in the state. Under the legislation that failed in the Senate, the racing industry would have retained 73 percent of the revenues from slot machines, the highest percentage of any state that has legalized slot machines at casinos.

Ellis was initially slated to run 48 live racing days this year, but Geary requested that 25 dates be cut from the schedule in April, citing expected competition from the Indiana tracks.