LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Undeterred by last month’s Supreme Court decision undercutting historical horse racing, Churchill Downs plans to open the state’s sixth gaming venue with slot-like machines in northern Kentucky on Friday.
Newport Racing & Gaming promises “Vegas-style gaming” with 500 machines whose themes include “Stinkin’ Rich” and “88 Fortunes.” The venue is in the Newport Shopping Center off Interstate 471 in Newport, Ky.
The Kentucky Supreme Court on Sept. 24 upended the state’s $2 billion historical horse racing industry. In a surprise 7-0 ruling, the high court defined “pari-mutuel wagering” in Kentucky more narrowly than the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and the state’s racetracks preferred.
The court found that the gaming system at issue in the case, which is made by Exacta Systems and used at three of the state’s gaming venues, does not constitute pari-mutuel wagering.
Slot machines and other forms of casino gambling are constitutionally barred in Kentucky, but racetracks have installed thousands of machines that look and feel like slot machines over the last decade. Historical horse racing is based on the premise that players are actually betting on previously run horse races invisible to them.
While the court ruling’s long-term impact is not clear, Churchill Downs is moving forward based on the fact that its gaming systems in use at Derby City Gaming in Louisville, Oak Grove in southern Kentucky and the new venue in Newport are made by a different vendor and were not examined as part of the court case.
"Since the ruling addressed a gaming system called the Exacta/Encore system, which (Churchill Downs) does not use at any of our (historical racing machine) properties in (Kentucky), the ruling did not impact our plans to open the Newport facility," Churchill Downs spokeswoman Tonya Abeln said in an email.
Asked whether the company’s machines nonetheless meet the narrower standard for pari-mutuel wagering established by the court, Abeln did not directly answer the question.
“We are evaluating the Court’s decision and will monitor any further legal developments, and, just as we have always done since we opened our first historical horse racing facility, we will continue to work with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to ensure that our games remain fully compliant with the law,” she said.
Exacta Systems said on Sept. 25 that the decision means all gaming systems in the state would have to change to meet the court's standard.
"As the Court interpreted Kentucky law and announced these requirements, the decision necessarily impacts all (historical horse racing) system providers and operations in Kentucky," the company said in a statement posted to its website.
Officials at the state horse racing commission did not respond Thursday when asked what they are doing in response to the court ruling.