Ellis Park in Henderson will become the second racetrack in Kentucky to offer expanded gambling.
On Monday, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission unanimously approved the Thoroughbred track's application for 252 machines to offer wagers on historical, or instant, racing.
The games will be the same six approved for use at Kentucky Downs in Franklin, which opened its instant racing room in September.
"I commend Mr. Geary for moving forward with this," said Foster Northrop, commission member. "I think it's to the betterment of horse racing in the state of Kentucky."
Ron Geary, owner of Ellis Park, said afterward that he expected to invest $2.8 million to $3.2 million in two rooms of machines. He hopes to open the facility in the first quarter of next year, probably between late January and early March.
Geary said he hesitated because Henderson is right across the Ohio River from Casino Aztar in Evansville, Ind. "But it's an older casino, smaller and in bankruptcy, so it's dated," he said. "We have 40,000 cars going by Ellis Park every day."
He thinks instant racing might be able to draw some of those potential customers, particularly because the track will reopen for simulcasting year-round beginning Jan. 1. Recently, Ellis had closed its simulcasting facility when it didn't have live racing to cut costs.
Geary said he expected that after 12 full months of operation the games would generate enough revenue for him to raise purses by 40 percent to 50 percent.
Next year, the increase will be less for the meet that begins in July because the track will have only a few months of increased revenue to work with, he said.
Geary predicted that pari-mutuel taxes on Ellis Park's handle from instant racing will generate $2 million in additional income for the state in the first year.
Ellis Park will be hiring 65 to 85 people for full-time jobs, he said.
Geary said he decided to move ahead with plans without waiting for a ruling next year from the Kentucky Court of Appeals. The Family Foundation, a conservative advocacy group, has challenged the legality of the games, contending they are not truly pari-mutuel.
"It's an entrepreneurial risk," Geary said, "but from our perspective purses have been in decline for the last few years. We can't let it decline much further."
In other business at the racing commission's monthly meeting, executive director Lisa Underwood announced that she is leaving her post Nov. 16 after five years to return to private legal practice as a partner at Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs.
"I'm very proud of what we've accomplished," Underwood said.
Gov. Steve Beshear will appoint her replacement. Marc Guilfoil will be interim executive director.
Commission chairman Bob Beck praised Underwood's performance. "She's worked tirelessly for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission," he said.
Some of the changes accomplished while she was in office include hiring an equine medical director, which she said helped Kentucky push through such reforms as banning steroids; and the hiring of someone to oversee pari-mutuel wagering.
Underwood said she was looking forward to betting again once she's out of the public role. "I used to love to bet," she said.
Underwood will have two tasks to see through before she departs: the Breeders' Cup Championships at Churchill Downs on Nov. 4 and 5, and a major forum on discontinuing the use of anti-bleeder medications such as furosemide.
Commission vice chairman Tracy Farmer announced Monday that he would chair the meeting on race-day medication Nov. 14 in Frankfort, with testimony from a spectrum of interested parties from PETA to The Jockey Club.
On Monday, the commission also approved the racing calendar for next year with a minor change from that proposed at a previous committee meeting. Churchill Downs, which had sought not to race in July, said it would hold races on Sunday, July 1, in a concession to horsemen. Ellis Park will open its summer season July 4, a Wednesday.