Churchill Downs, the home of the historic Kentucky Derby, plans to add historical wagering on horse racing, the slots-like gambling that has boosted revenue at several other Kentucky racetracks, including Keeneland, Red Mile in Lexington, Kentucky Downs in Franklin, and Ellis Park in Henderson.
Turfway Park in Florence also has received permission to add machines, but it hasn’t begun operations yet.
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission is to meet at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday to consider the request, which is on the agenda without further details.
It isn’t clear whether the machines will be on the track’s Churchill Downs property under the Twin Spires or at another Churchill-owned property, such as the former training track that it owns on Poplar Level Road in Louisville.
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Churchill officials have previously said that they weren’t really interested in historical wagering, preferring instead to hold out for true slot machines.
In historical racing, bettors attempt to handicap a previously run horse race, which allegedly determines the winner; opponents contend that the games are an illegal form of gambling. The case is pending in Franklin Circuit Court.
The games often are designed to play like traditional slot machines, with titles such as Gold Rush and Seven Sevens, with the video of the horse race reduced to a few seconds shown in a small window if the player chooses.
Churchill Downs, which has traditional slots at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans and owns several casinos, has expressed a preference for slots’ faster and more lucrative play. However, efforts to legalize traditional slots or casino gambling in general have died many times in the Kentucky General Assembly.
Instead, in 2010, during the administration of Gov. Steve Beshear, the horse racing commission approved parimutuel wagering on historic horse racing.
In May, more than $88 million was wagered in Kentucky on 1,724 historical wagering machines at tracks in the state, and most of the money was returned to winning bettors. In the fiscal year to date, through May, almost $839 million had been wagered at the gambling machines. That’s an increase of more than 44.5 percent from the the same period in fiscal 2016.
Through May, the machines generated almost $4.7 million for the Kentucky General Fund in fiscal 2017, according to the racing commission’s data.
They have generated millions more for the tracks and for purses for Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds alike.
The first machines were installed at Kentucky Downs in 2011 and have done almost $2 billion in handle since then, generating $29 million in Kentucky excise taxes, including about $9 million for the General Fund.