Sale of Ellis Park to New York owners approved; no changes announced

Ellis Park in Henderson has been sold to Saratoga Casino & Hospitality Group, which already had a minority stake.
Ellis Park in Henderson has been sold to Saratoga Casino & Hospitality Group, which already had a minority stake. Coady Photography

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission on Tuesday unanimously approved the transfer of Ellis Park’s license to Saratoga Casino & Hospitality, which is upping its stake in the Henderson track from minority ownership to 100 percent.

The move comes as the track is in the midst of its live racing meet, which will continue through Labor Day on Sept. 3. Former owner Ron Geary will be retiring from the track.

“It’s been a really fun and fast-moving 12 years,” Geary said in a statement. “I feel like we’ve had some great successes and we’ve brought it a long ways with so many people’s help. I know Saratoga will be focused on continuing the progress.”

He said Saratoga plans to keep current staff, including general manager Jeff Hall.

“All indications are that Ellis will continue with the footprint they’ve had for years, with Thoroughbred racing,” said racing commission executive director Marc Guilfoil. “(Saratoga Casino) came to us a few weeks ago to acquire the remaining 70 percent, after they bought 30 percent in 2012.”

Guilfoil said that no changes were requested with Ellis Park’s historical horse racing games either; revenue from the electronic form of gambling was up in the last fiscal year about 10 percent with gains in recent months.

“Back in 2011, I was trying to figure out what it took to get Ellis into the black and make it profitable,” Geary said. “I decided I had to invest in Instant Racing, called Historical Horse Racing now. I took a whole year and visited 44 different racetracks, casinos, racinos and met a bunch of people and talked to them that I would like to bring in a 20 to 30-percent partner to help me launch Instant Racing. Seven groups or people were interested. One of the last groups I met with was Saratoga, and there was kind of a bond immediately. We always got along great. We always dealt with each other with openness and candor. They are a very dependable group of people, ones you can trust. I went with them. They put up $4 million to get the original Instant Racing open in the clubhouse, and we’ve been working together ever since. They are good people.”

At the same meeting, the commission also approved Churchill Downs’ request to use Australian gambling machine provider Ainsworth Games Technology for its new historical racing facility. Derby City Gaming is scheduled to open in September with at least 900 terminals.