LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Renowned Kentucky racetracks Churchill Downs and Keeneland are forming a business partnership aimed at building two new tracks and betting parlors near the Tennessee border.
The ventures proposed for Corbin and Oak Grove are contingent on state approval for gambling on live races and gaming using historical racing machines, Churchill and Keeneland said Friday. The project is expected to cost $80 million to $90 million, and if regulators agree, the tracks could open for live racing as soon as 2019, said Keeneland executive Vince Gabbert.
The tracks are hoping to tap into the popularity of the slot-style machines, which offer an electronic version of gambling on past horse races. Also called instant racing, the machines have proliferated in recent years, and Kentucky Downs — a potential rival near the Tennessee border — has prospered from them, drawing flocks of Tennesseans.
Churchill and Keeneland see the new venture as a way to generate new revenue to strengthen racing at their tracks. The proposed new tracks also would offer simulcast wagering on races around the country.
“Churchill Downs and Keeneland share a deep commitment to making Kentucky’s horse racing industry the very best version of itself, and the new racing facilities in Corbin and Oak Grove will help us achieve this by generating much needed funds to increase purses and breeders’ incentives,” Churchill Downs Inc. Chief Executive Officer Bill Carstanjen said in a release.
There was immediate pushback to the venture from Kentucky Downs President Corey Johnsen, who said an Oak Grove track would encroach on his market.
Kentucky Downs, at Franklin near the Tennessee line, relies on Nashville as its primary market, he said. Putting another track about 60 miles away in Oak Grove would create “undue competition” to his track’s historical racing, simulcasting and live racing operations, Johnsen said.
“It makes no sense to put a new track in an existing track’s market,” Johnsen said. “We would never consider applying for a racetrack license in close proximity to Louisville or Lexington.”
Construction of the proposed new tracks and betting parlors depends on licensing approval from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. Churchill Downs and Keeneland said they were filing applications with state regulators on Friday.
The plan is to offer quarter horse racing at the Corbin track and harness racing at the Oak Grove facility, said Gabbert, Keeneland’s vice president and chief operating officer. Neither track would offer thoroughbred racing, he said.
Short, live racing meets are planned for both tracks. The projection is for 10 to 12 days of live racing at the Corbin track, and 12 to 15 days at Oak Grove, Gabbert said.
Meanwhile, the application to state regulators will seek approval to install about 250 historical racing machines at the Corbin facility and about 500 at the Oak Grove track, he said.
Both would try to draw business from nearby Tennessee.
“Because of their location, the Tennessee market would be extremely important to everything that we’ve got going on at both proposed facilities,” Gabbert said.
Churchill and Keeneland said they are working with Kentucky’s Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet and other state and local officials on incentives and infrastructure improvements related to the developments, which won praise from the mayors of Corbin and Oak Grove.
“Corbin is thrilled to be a part of this historic venture between two of the horse racing industry’s most iconic names,” Corbin Mayor Willard McBurney said.
Corbin is in southeastern Kentucky just off Interstate 75, north of Tennessee. Oak Grove is near Interstate 24 and close to the Fort Campbell Army post in southwestern Kentucky. Fort Campbell straddles the Kentucky-Tennessee line.
Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby in Louisville, announced plans this year for its first historical waging facility — an approximately $60 million venture at the track’s former Sports Spectrum facility, a few miles from the famed track. Keeneland, a Lexington racetrack and thoroughbred auction company, jointly operates a gambling parlor at The Red Mile.