Ellis Park warns it will have to close

The 2009 summer racing season will be the last at Ellis Park in Henderson in Western Kentucky unless that track gets financial help or relief from competition, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission was told Tuesday.

Ellis Park owner Ron Geary predicted that more Kentucky racetracks will close, "and fairly quickly," he said.

Another representative of a small track, Kentucky Downs President Corey Johnsen, said the Franklin track will have racing on one-third fewer days in 2010 than in 2009 unless it gets back some of the revenue it is now losing to competitors.

Spokesmen for Churchill Downs in Louisville and Keene land in Lexington said those tracks plan to apply for the same number of racing dates for 2010 as for 2009.

But Churchill Downs General Manager Jim Gates Jr. said his racetrack will "reassess" its position this fall — leaving open the possibility of requesting fewer racing dates for 2010 — if its business continues to be soft.

Racing Commission Chairman Robert M. Beck Jr. also said the economic downturn is affecting the commission itself, which draws much of its income from fees paid by the industry.

Beck said the commission is leaving vacant positions unfilled and using reserves to balance its budget this year, but will essentially be "broke" after its reserves are gone next year.

The commission's predicament "directly affects the integrity of racing (in Kentucky) and I don't think the industry should allow that (deterioration) to happen," Beck said.

Geary and Johnsen said their betting business and the purses they can offer horse owners are being clobbered by out-of-state casinos and slots parlors at racetracks in adjacent states.

Those states use gambling revenues, including some $700 million a year wagered by Kentuckians, to inflate purses paid at their racetracks, which attracts horse owners from Kentucky, Geary said.

Meanwhile, Ellis Park's purses are projected to fall from a total of $4.5 million this year to $4 million in 2010 and to $2.2 million by 2013.

Geary noted that casinos have been opened in Indiana opposite Kentucky racetracks in Florence, Louisville and Henderson. "They are basically putting it in our face," he said.