Keeneland delays plan for instant-racing building

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comJuly 25, 2014 

Keeneland Race Course is delaying plans to begin offering instant racing on its Lexington campus because of the 2015 Breeders' Cup.

On Friday, the city's Board of Adjustment granted the Lexington racetrack a 60-day postponement for its application for a special permit to build a 61,000-square-foot building to house the instant-racing terminals.

That means its application probably won't be heard until early fall.

Vince Gabbert, vice president and chief operating officer of Keeneland, said Friday that the original start date of July 2015 for instant racing is no longer realistic. Keeneland has not yet decided when it will open the new event complex that will house instant racing — which allows bettors to wager on historical horse races on terminals that are similar to slot machines.

Plans submitted to the Board of Adjustment show that the new building will be to the east of the Keene Barn entertainment center.

The area where the new event building is slated to be built also is a prime tailgating spot, which will likely be needed for the Breeders' Cup, which is expected to draw up to 50,000 race fans.

Gabbert said Keeneland didn't want its grounds to be under construction during the Breeders' Cup, scheduled for Oct. 30 and 31, 2015.

"We may be pushing back our timeline considerably (for instant racing)," Gabbert said. "We want to do things right. We are still in the planning stages on instant racing in terms of both the product and the facility."

Keeneland was awarded the Breeders' Cup race just last month. It will be the first time the Lexington track has hosted the season-ending signature event.

Gabbert said that all of the track's attention has been focused on preparing for the Breeders' Cup.

"It requires a lot of our focus and it's obviously priority number one right now," Gabbert said.

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission unanimously approved Keeneland's application for 600 instant-racing terminals in April.

According to documents submitted to the Board of Adjustment, the new building will contain 44,000 square feet on the first floor and 17,000 square feet on a lower level. It also would have 441 new parking spaces.

Also in April, the racing commission approved 500 instant racing terminals for The Red Mile, Lexington's harness-racing track.

The Red Mile did not respond to requests for comment Friday on whether its instant racing operation would open in July 2015, as originally planned.

The Red Mile has said that its 40,000-square-foot parlor will be on the front of its grandstand. The parlor is designed to wrap around the grandstand so patrons will have views of the track.

The Red Mile was rezoned in 2010 for a mixed-use development as part of its application for tax increment financing, which uses taxes generated from a project to pay for infrastructure costs. It does not need to be rezoned for an instant racing gambling parlor.

According to city records, The Red Mile has not yet filed for a building permit for the new building.

Keeneland has said that it anticipated $44 million in revenue annually from instant racing. The Red Mile has had similar projections.

According to documents filed with the racing commission, The Red Mile planned to invest $25 million. Keeneland did not disclose its potential investment, only saying it was "significant."

Only Kentucky Downs in Franklin and Ellis Park in Henderson have instant racing.

According to information provided to the racing commission, those tracks see about $30 million in wagering a month. Kentucky Downs averages about $1 million a day. Both Keeneland and The Red Mile decided to move forward with plans for instant racing despite an ongoing court case challenging whether the games are legal.

Beth Musgrave: (859) 231-3205. Twitter: @HLCityhall.

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