By Bill Finley
With officials from Keeneland and The Red Mile and Lexington Mayor Jim Gray among those doing the honors, a ribbon was cut Thursday morning at the entrance leading into a room housing 902 Instant Racing Machines at the Central Kentucky harness track.
Though the gaming room was first open for business Saturday, yesterday's ceremonies put an official stamp on what is being hailed as Lexington's first legal gambling parlor. With actual slot machines still illegal in Kentucky, the hope is that gamblers will find Instant Racing an attractive alternative and that their gaming dollars will help enhance purses at Keeneland and The Red Mile, who are 50-50 partners on the project.
“For Keeneland, the extension of this product will be instrumental in us being able to continue to enhance our purse structure in order to make us competitive around the country and give our horsemen what they deserve when they come here to race,” said Keeneland President and CEO Bill Thomason. “We're really excited about the prospects for what this will be able to do for us, and we're doing it for that simple reason.”
The Kentucky racing industry, both Thoroughbred and Standardbred, has been engaged in a long fight to bring alternative forms of gaming to the state's racetracks in order to fend off competition from neighboring states that have racinos. Slot machines or, better yet, full-fledged Las Vegas style casinos at the racetracks, would have been the No. 1 choice, but Thomason said the primary focus for now will be on making the Red Mile facility as successful as possible.
“We are very excited with the new product we have now,” he said. “This is a pari-mutuel product that will enhance us and help grow the sport. Our current objectives are to use all the tools that are given to us to enhance our sport in Kentucky. The discussion about gaming will continue over the years, but that's not our focus right now. Our focus is to make this successful and to use everything we can do with this new opportunity we've been given to better our sport.”
The new and improved Red Mile will now be the lone simulcasting outlet in Lexington as Keeneland will no longer offer off-season simulcasting. All revenue from Thoroughbred simulcasting at The Red Mile will continue to go to Keeneland while The Red Mile will profit from Standardbred and Quarter Horse simulcasts only.
“Our facility is really not made for simulcasting,” Thomason said. “We had to disrupt our simulcasting operation so many times during the year with moving our simulcasting patrons out and moving them back in. We tried so many different things and so many different locations and we were never able to come up with a formula to allow us to grow simulcasting. Here, we have a tremendous modern facility, a lot of televisions, a lot go signals and a lot of excitement. We'll be able to build entertainment around our simulcasting signals year round in a great environment and one where our simulcasting patrons don't have to keep moving around and keep being disrupted.”
Thomason added that The Red Mile should be a popular option on Breeders' Cup Day for fans who may not be able to get tickets to the event at Keeneland.