Commission OKs License For $150M Racetrack In Oak Grove, Creating More Than 400 Jobs

Nov 20, 2018

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has approved a joint venture between Churchill Downs and Keeneland at a proposed $150 million racetrack and betting parlor near the Kentucky and Tennessee line.

The commission on Friday approved the racetrack license on an 11-3 vote, beating out competing projects from Kentucky Downs and Caesars-Bluegrass Downs. The racetrack license, the first approved in Kentucky in 25 years, allows for 12 days of Standardbred racing starting in Oct. 2019.

The project — located in Oak Grove, Kentucky — will include a gambling parlor with up 1,500 historical horse racing machines.

Historical horse racing machines are lucrative betting terminals that allow people to bet on races that have already taken place. The games often are designed to play like slot machines, with the video of a horse race reduced to a few seconds shown in a small window if the player chooses.

Churchill Downs and Keeneland also plan on building a 125-room hotel with an event center and food venues, a 3,000-person outdoor amphitheater and stage, and an equestrian center with indoor and outdoor arenas.

According to a news release, the joint venture will create nearly 400 full and part-time jobs, as well as 800 temporary construction jobs. Churchill Downs will own 95 percent of the venture and Keeneland will own 5 percent.

Kentucky Downs, at Franklin near the Tennessee line, was quick to criticize the commission's approval.

Kentucky Downs relies heavily on Nashville as its primary market and Winchell argued putting another track about 60 miles away in Oak Grove "could lead to a pricing competition " to the track's historical racing that would cut into the purse money raised for the state.

Kentucky Downs was the first Kentucky track to install historical racing machines, in 2011. It started with 200 machines and now has nearly 650.

"This decision, we felt, was very important and needed more time, the processing to be more well thought out. We're obviously very disappointed in the result," said Ron Winchell, Kentucky Downs' prospective new co-owner, in a statement. "We're happy and excited about what's going on at Kentucky Downs and looking forward to the future."

Earlier this week, Winchell and former casino analyst Marc Falcone announced they intended to purchase the majority interest of Kentucky Downs.

Falcone said the commission's decision means the previously announced $25 million expansion of Kentucky Downs may grow even more.

"Now we know we have competition in the market," Winchell said. "We're going to gear up."