Rendering of the Corbin facility, to be named Cumberland Run.

By Janet Patton and Bill Estep | Lexington Herald-Leader

Keeneland, the Lexington racetrack and Thoroughbred auction company, and Churchill Downs in Louisville on Friday announced a plan to open two Thoroughbred racetracks and gambling parlors, one in Corbin, just off Interstate 75 north of Tennessee, and another in Oak Grove, on Interstate 24 near Fort Campbell.

To share the news, the two companies released a video featuring Churchill CEO Bill Carstanjen, Keeneland president and CEO Bill Thomason, Kentucky Thoroughbred Association executive director Chauncey Morris and Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association executive director Marty Maline.

“Horse racing is a $4 billion industry in the commonwealth that creates thousands of jobs, strengthens our statewide economy and attracts millions of visitors from around the globe,” Carstanjen said. “Churchill Downs and Keeneland share a deep commitment to making Kentucky’s horse racing industry the very best version of itself, and the new racing facilities in Corbin and Oak Grove will help us achieve this by generating much-needed funds to increase purses and breeders’ incentives.”

In June, Churchill Downs announced plans to open its first historical wagering facility after years of saying the machines, which are based on previously run horse races, could not compete with traditional slots. Churchill’s $60 million Trackside gambling parlor will be at the track’s former Sports Spectrum facility in Lousiville.

“Keeneland is excited to partner with Churchill Downs on this initiative which builds upon our mission to strengthen the sport and create new opportunities for horsemen and fans,” Thomason said. “Not only will these racing facilities strengthen Kentucky’s vital horse industry, but just as importantly, they will positively impact the commonwealth and the local communities by stimulating significant economic growth, generating hundreds of new jobs and enhancing tourism and hospitality.”

Churchill Downs and Keeneland are working with the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet and other state and local officials on a number of incentives and necessary infrastructure improvements for both sites.

“Corbin is thrilled to be a part of this historic venture between two of the horse racing industry’s most iconic names,” Corbin Mayor Willard McBurney said. “The new racing facility will be a welcome addition to our city’s already long list of sites and attractions for local residents and visitors.”

“We are proud of the significant investment Churchill Downs and Keeneland are committed to making in our community, and are excited to see the infusion of tourism, economic development and new jobs it will bring to Oak Grove and Christian County,” Oak Grove Mayor Bea Burt said.

Each facility is contingent on an initial pari-mutuel racing license from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, and Churchill Downs and Keeneland are filing their applications with the commission Friday, according to the announcement.

“Churchill Downs and Keeneland have the support of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association as they move forward with their plans to bring two new racing facilities to our state,” Morris said.

“The Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association is excited for what this announcement means for our sport,” Maline said. “We represent more than 6,000 owners and trainers who depend on a strong racing industry, and we know this historic partnership will help draw the eyes of millions to Kentucky’s signature industry.”

Bruce Carpenter, economic development director for Corbin, told The Herald-Leader that local leaders believe the track there will provide a significant boost to the economy.

The projection is for the track to provide 125 or more permanent jobs, as well as additional seasonal jobs, and it will spur other development such as restaurants and retail outlets, Carpenter said.

“I think it’s going to make a major impact not only on us, but this entire region,” he said.

In 2013, Keeneland announced plans to buy the license used by harness track Thunder Ridge in Prestonsburg and moving it Corbin. At that time, the Lexington track said it was teaming up with Nevada-based Full House Resorts, which would run the historical racing slots parlor there with a quarter horse track.

But that plan never came to fruition because Keeneland wasn’t able to secure the license. However, in July, a deal was reached to pay off an outstanding $2.2 million bond on the Floyd County track, which will clear the way to move the track.

The new gambling parlors could significantly increase the amount of revenue generated by historical horse racing, sometimes called Instant Racing. In August, there were about 1,700 terminals operating at three Kentucky tracks, with handle of almost $83 million. Year-to-day, almost $170 million has been wagered on the machines, generating more than $10.6 million for the tracks and purses and another $2.5 million in Kentucky excise taxes so far this fiscal year.

The state general fund receives a sliver of the excise tax; fiscal year to date through August, the machines generated more than $535,000 for the general fund. Most of the money bet goes back to the players in winnings.

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