Horses

Update: Instant racing handle is up 30 to 40 percent for November

Instant racing, in which gamblers bet on old horse races, continues to attract new money.

In October, total handle on historical wagering, as the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission calls it, jumped 56 percent from September, when Kentucky Downs opened the first expanded-gambling room at its track in Franklin.

In September, $4.34 million was wagered on about 200 machines; in October, that rose to $6.77 million, according to figures reported to the racing commission.

The track's revenue has soared as well. In September, Kentucky Downs' commission on instant racing was about $317,778; in October, the track raked in $488,892. For the first two months of operation, revenue from the machines topped $806,000.

"It's really what we expected and what I've seen at the opening of other pari-mutuel facilities," Kentucky Downs president Corey Johnsen said Wednesday. "As customers become more comfortable with the wagers, they wager more."

Johnsen said there is more "genuine acceptance of instant racing as a means of entertainment," and that growth has continued as Kentucky Downs begins marketing.

"We're up 30 to 40 percent for November," Johnsen said. "December is a wild card."

He said that as the revenue grows, the track will begin sharing the wealth through the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund and through purses, which can be dispersed to other tracks once they hit a certain level at Kentucky Downs, which races only a handful of days each year.

"I think it's not only going to be a financial booster, it's going to be a morale booster as well," said Johnsen, who also is president of the Kentucky Equine Education Project. He said recent gains at the November breeding stock sale at Keeneland reflect the improved financial outlook.

Ellis Park in Henderson is scheduled to begin offering instant-racing wagers early next year, and owner Ron Geary has said he thinks revenue numbers there will be similar to those at Kentucky Downs.

Instant racing has pumped $166,623 into purses and state programs. The primary beneficiary has been the ailing Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund, which has received more than $83,300.

"We're obviously happy about it," said Marc Guilfoil, interim executive director of the racing commission.

In 2011, the KTDF totaled about $4 million, and revenue has dropped considerably in recent years; at the present rate of $50,000 a month, instant racing from Kentucky Downs alone would contribute $600,000 a year in new money. If Ellis Park can match it, then KTDF supplements could rise 30 percent.

"That would be wonderful," said David Switzer, executive director of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association.

Several of Kentucky's other racetracks, including The Red Mile and Turfway Park, have expressed an interest in adding instant racing but have said they will wait until a legal challenge by The Family Foundation is settled by the Kentucky Court of Appeals, probably next year.

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