- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 20, 2017

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Churchill Downs won approval Tuesday to jump into an electronic version of gambling on horse races that allows people to bet on past races displayed on devices similar to slot machines.

Track executives revealed at a Kentucky Horse Racing Commission meeting that they want gambling on historical races to occur at its off-track training location, not at the famed track that’s home to the Kentucky Derby. That location is a few miles from the Louisville track.

The track’s parent company said it plans to invest about $60 million to build a new facility that will open with 600 historical racing machines. It also will include places to eat and a bar.

“This project obviously is one that will be a significant investment in Kentucky thoroughbred racing that will ultimately help not only Churchill Downs but the city of Louisville, the state of Kentucky, and that’s very important to us,” track President Kevin Flanery told the commission.

The historical racing venture has been a success at some of Kentucky’s other horse tracks.

The commission gave conditional approval to the Churchill project. One of its members - Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day - expressed concerns about how Churchill’s historical racing venue would fare against casino gambling offered in southern Indiana, a short drive from Louisville.

“You can drive 20 minutes across the river and have a full-blown casino and entertainment,” Day said. “Can historic racing really compete against that?”

Flanery responded that Churchill has been deliberate in assessing historical racing but expressed confidence that it could make the venture work. He cited Churchill’s brand and the location of the future historical racing parlor as advantages.

“We understand that we have to have an experience that when people get there, they like it, they enjoy what they’re doing, and it’s something that they will come back to,” he said.

As the project progresses, Churchill will have to return to the commission to present its plans for the gaming parlor and the games that will be offered.

Churchill hopes to begin construction on the 85,000-square-foot facility this summer, with a timeline for opening in summer 2018, Flanery said.

Churchill opted not to put the historical wagering facility at its famed track due to space limitations, he said.

Flanery didn’t disclose revenue projections from the added gambling on historical racing.

He predicted the additional revenue will result in significant increases in race purses, making Kentucky more competitive to attract top horses for races.

Churchill said its plans for the historical racing facility at its former Trackside location will generate an estimated 200 new full- and part-time jobs to operate the facility, along with about 250 construction jobs to build it. The facility will continue its role as a training center.

The venture into wagering on historical racing has boosted revenue at other Kentucky tracks.

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

In May 2017, more than $88 million was wagered in Kentucky on historical wagering machines at participating tracks, according to statistics from the racing commission. Most of the money was returned to winning bettors. For the entire fiscal year through May, almost $839 million was wagered at the gambling machines. That’s up 44.5 percent from the year-ago period.

For years, Churchill and other Kentucky tracks pushed to legalize casino-style gambling in Kentucky, but those proposals died in the state legislature.

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