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Instant racing inches closer at Kentucky Downs in Franklin

The new gaming room has been built, the 200 betting machines are being tested, the servers and cashiers have been hired, and the tote provider approved.

Kentucky Downs in Franklin is inching closer to opening the first expanded gambling facility in Kentucky. The racetrack has no firm starting date but anticipates opening for business in the first week of September.

On Wednesday, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission approved Amtote's operation of wagering on "historical races," otherwise known as instant racing. The games take bets on previously run horse races, but the machines are designed to mimic the bells and whistles — along with gaming features — of electronic slot machines and video lottery terminals.

Track president Corey Johnsen said Wednesday that about 500 people applied for jobs and that he's hired 85; the number could rise to 100 as the live meet begins.

Kentucky Downs, which is an all-grass track over rolling terrain, much like European racing, has four live days of racing this year: Sept. 10, 12, 17 and 19. On those days, Johnsen expects as many as 5,000 people in the grandstands.

Racing commission officials will be conducting on-site visits of the track until they are up and running, said Lisa Underwood, commission executive director.

Johnsen said he doesn't know how well the new type of gambling will be received, but he has no indication of any planned protests.

While he is planning for a "soft open" with a low-key, invitation-only event, he is looking down the road to Phase 2. When the track is ready to go to up to 500 machines, he anticipates a much larger promotional push.

But that is on hold until a ruling from the Kentucky Court of Appeals on The Family Foundation's challenge on whether the games are legal. Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate ruled they were in December.

But in the meantime, Johnsen said, he is concentrating on getting things, such as the player rewards program, right.

"It's important that we open a first-class operation and make sure it's a great entertainment experience," he said.

Also Wednesday, the racing commission apparently had about 30 minutes of an improper closed-door meeting. The commission went into executive session to discuss legal matters, but when one member left, the panel was without a quorum and had no way to take any action — including adjourning the meeting.

After about 30 minutes of discussion, the commission was informed it should have shut down the session when it lost the quorum.

"If there was an error, it was my error," said Susan Speckert, commission counsel. She said she had understood the panel could continue in closed session as long as it had a quorum going in.

The racing commission will have to go back into open session at its next meeting and officially adjourn before it can begin next month's business.

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