The new Turfway Park features a spectacular sports bar with plenty of televisions and a ticker that constantly updates sports scores. It was built with an eye toward Kentucky some day approving sports wagering.
That day arrived March 30.
In a bit of a surprise, the Kentucky Senate followed its House counterparts by approving a bill that allows sports wagering in the state. On March 31 Gov. Andy Beshear (Democrat) signed the legislation that will allow sports wagering at Kentucky tracks and any of their extensions (off-site historical horse racing facilities).
It could be as soon as this year that the sports bar at Turfway, and other similar areas that Kentucky tracks have constructed during significant facility upgrades in recent years behind the strength of HHR, will go live with sports betting. Turfway owner Churchill Downs Inc., which also owns its flagship track and Ellis Park, is looking forward to the launch.
“Churchill Downs Incorporated is excited to bring our experience operating brick and mortar sports wagering venues to our home state of Kentucky,” the company said in a release. “All of our (HHR) facilities throughout the state were designed with this possibility in mind and will be ready to offer sports betting under the regulations and timing of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.”
With Friday’s signing of the sports wagering legislation by the governor, the bill will become law in about 90 days and then the KHRC (which will regulate sports wagering in the state) will have six months to put regulations in place. That timeframe would put a launch in the ballpark of Jan. 1, but because of the popularity of wagering on football, there certainly would be some push to launch in time for the college and NFL seasons, or as much of those seasons as possible.
Brick and mortar sports betting locations can be added to the tracks as well as track extensions—the historical horse racing facilities tied to tracks throughout the state. Tracks also will be able to partner with online sports betting sites to offer internet and mobile sports wagering.
While handle from sports wagering will not directly benefit horse racing, tracks and horsemen are hoping it can help bring in new fans. Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association executive director Joe Clabes noted that the addition of sports wagering can bring more people out to the tracks and puts Kentucky’s HHR facilities on a more level playing field as the state is nearly surrounded by states that already allow sports betting.
“We hope it will bring people out to the tracks and the HHR,” Clabes said. “It gives us more equal footing with our neighbors.”
Kentucky Sen. Damon Thayer (Republican, Georgetown) has been championing sports wagering legislation for the past five years. He took some time to celebrate Thursday’s vote. Also a horse owner, Thayer believes sports wagering will be a positive for horse racing.
“This will provide Kentucky tracks an opportunity to reach new fans that would be likely to bet on racing,” Thayer said. “It’s a chance to expose sports bettors to live horse racing, simulcast racing, advance-deposit wagering on horses, and historical horse racing.”
Thayer said he has encouraged tracks to integrate their race and sportsbook operations to encourage crossover and draw new racing fans.
Turfway general manager Chip Bach, who was in place during some lean years before the arrival of HHR at the Northern Kentucky track, is looking forward to adding sports wagering. The track is about 10 miles from Ohio, which allows sports wagering. He notes that sports wagering offers another reason for people to choose Turfway when they’re thinking about where to spend their entertainment dollars.
“I’m ecstatic about it,” Bach said. “It gives us something more to compete with the full casinos. We’ll have the HHR, the sports betting, the live racing, entertainment, and dining.”