LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Churchill Downs and Keeneland have formed a partnership and hope to build two new racetracks in Kentucky.
The two proposed locations are Corbin, Kentucky, in Knox County, and Oak Grove, in Christian County. Both facilities would feature live racing as well as historical racing machines for casino-style gambling.
"This is the moment," said John Asher, the Churchill Downs V.P. of Racing Communication. "This is the opportunity we believe it will work."
Churchill Downs Incorporated CEO Bill Carstanjen says the horse racing industry in Kentucky creates thousands of jobs and attracts visitors from around the world.
Bill Thomason, President and CEO of Keeneland, says the proposed new facilities will help strengthen the sport and create new opportunities.
Officials in Corbin and Oak Grove say they would welcome the new racetracks. Kentucky Thoroughbred Association Executive Director Chauncey Morris says both tracks have the support of the Association.
"The proposed facilities will benefit our industry and the Commonwealth as a whole through new jobs, greater revenues and more tourism," Morris said.
Before opening, both facilities will need to obtain a racing license from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. Churchill Downs and Keeneland filed their applications on Friday. A few infrastructure improvements will also be needed.
At the opening Fall Meet in Louisville on Friday, word of the partnership raced through the grandstands -- almost as fast as the horses around the track.
"The Corbin track will have quarter horse racing, while the track near Hopkinsville will have harness racing -- limited boutique meets -- but there will be activity in the historical racing facilities year-round," Asher said.
Historical -- or "instant" racing -- allows gamblers like Bobby Roberts to bet on old matchups.
"They got the place out there on Polar Level Road," Roberts said.
But it looks just like a slot machine, in facilities that look just like casinos -- the subject of much contention and ongoing lawsuits. Critics like Richard Nelson, the executive director of the Commonwealth Policy Center, oppose any form of expanded gambling. Casinos are currently banned in the commonwealth of Kentucky.
"You know, this may seem like a good idea to casino interests, but the best version of Kentucky doesn't put its families at risk," Nelson said in a video posted to YouTube.
Asher says the track is not concerned.
"It's really not an issue we're focusing on right now," Asher said. "Historical racing is available. It's a parimutuel wager. It is legal in the state of Kentucky."
With fields and purses getting smaller and smaller, race fans are wondering whether this will help or hurt the horse industry in Kentucky.
"It will be interesting to look into it," said Roberts. "I think we got enough tracks...I think until they legalize gambling, they will still not have the income and purses of these tracks that have wagering or casino gambling."
So the two historic tracks are now trotting through regulations, needing approval from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, and hoping to end up in the winner's circle.
Asher says that approval from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission would, "benefit all of thoroughbred racing, the breeding industry, and the state treasury, for that matter."
There stake are high on all sides. Experts say Horse racing is a $4 billion dollar industry in Kentucky.
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