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Louisville, Ky – for 145 years, Churchill Downs has attracted world-class horses and the people who train, own and bet on them to Central Ave in South Louisville. But in the past two-and-a-half years, the beating heart of the iconic racetrack, which will come to life next Saturday for the 147th Kentucky Derby, has slowly begun to move to the sprawling, 85,000-square-foot. building five miles southeast.
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What You Need to Know Historic horse racing has provided financial fortunes to the horse racing industry over the past decade. machine propping up the entire industry in Kentucky
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That’s where the Derby City playground sits. Unlike Churchill Downs, there are no horses or hay on site, where Churchill Downs Incorporated opened in 2018 next to the old Louisville Downs racetrack. Instead, it is lined with hundreds of historical horse racing machines, which look and operate much like slot machines.
It also rakes in money like a slot machine. In recent years, that money, along with proceeds from five other HHR venues in Kentucky, has provided a vital shot in the arm for the state’s horse industry, increasing purse sizes, attracting larger fields and allowing Kentucky to compete with Florida, California. and New York for the fastest horse in the world.
Next week, the effect of the HHR engine will be felt directly on the track. On Thursday, CDI announced an additional $3.1 million in purse money for the track’s spring meet. The injection, the company said, was “thanks to a strong business” at Derby City Gaming, which Churchill Downs CEO William C. Carstanjen has called a “juggernaut.”
The effects weren’t just felt in Louisville. Kentucky Downs, on the border with Tennessee, is home to 929 HHR engines. This fall, the track will host three $1 million dollar races, just two years after hosting the first ever $1 million race. “It’s a huge problem,” said Elisabeth Jansen, executive vice president of the Kentucky Equine Education Alliance (KEEP), an industry group.
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“If it wasn’t for horse racing history, Ellis Park would be closed and Churchill Downs wouldn’t be rebuilding Turfway Park,” said Jansen about the tracks in Henderson and Florence, respectively. “Without historic horse racing, we’d have a few days of racing at Churchill Downs and a few days of racing at Keeneland and that would be about it.”
About a decade ago, Kentucky’s horse industry was in rough shape as neighboring states began to compete with the tradition-rich but impoverished Commonwealth. Legalized gambling in places such as Pennsylvania and West Virginia allowed tracks in those states to boost the size of their wallets. A higher purse means more horses for them and fewer for Kentucky, where most forms of gambling remain illegal.
“The purse is the mother’s milk of horse racing from which everything else flows,” State Sen. Damon Thayer, a Republican from Northern Kentucky, told Spectrum News 1. Small purse means fewer horses, which brings less work for all veterinarians, blacksmiths. , farm hands andothers who rely on the horse industry for work.
In the midst of these purse-shrinking days, a novelty arrived at Kentucky Downs in Franklin. Originally called instant racing machines, they are now more commonly called HHR machines. But those who do not know better will just call them slot machines.
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With all the flashing lights and ringing bells commonly associated with Vegas-style machines, HHR machines operate with one key difference. Instead of relying on an algorithm to randomize the results of the wheel, they use previous horse races to determine the results of the spin. Wagering is also Pari-mutuel, which means that bets are pooled and then divided among the winners. This type of wagering is legal in Kentucky.
The HHR machines at Derby City Gaming, with names like “Dollar Chief” and “Fort Knox,” have one feature you’ll see on any slot machine: a button that says “Race Info.” Pressing it brings up a screen showing the date and location of the previously run race that will determine the result. Bettors can choose the order they believe the horses finish the race, but the machine discourages it, indicating that letting it pick for you will be faster. The result is then animated like a slot machine.
“If you’ve made it look like a toaster, nobody’s going to play it,” Jansen said. “I think it’s a slot machine because that’s what’s fun and sexy for people.”
It was the first machine at Kentucky Downs to be treated as a novelty, Jansen said. But over the years, as the belief in their legality and evidence of their popularity grew, the machine caught on.
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Currently, there are just over 3,700 HHR machines at six different sites in Kentucky. In fiscal year 2020, which ended last June, more than $2.2 billion was bet through HHR machines. Almost $189 million of that goes back to the lines that run the place.
“Horse racing historically allows us to keep our industry going year-round — keep people employed year-round,” Jansen said. “It keeps the value of Kentucky bred horses up. It keeps the value of real estate and farms. It increases jobs. It benefits the economy all year round.
And it just grew. In February, the last month for which data is available, more than $322 million was bet on HHR machines, up 19% from February 2020. The average daily amount bet across the country was $11.5 million, almost 25% more than in February . 2020. At the current rate, the total bet for fiscal year 2021 will likely hit $3.75 billion.
The rapid growth of HHR is not without some stumbles. Last September, the Supreme Court of Kentucky ruled that the machine is not a pari-mutuel wagering, making it unconstitutional in the state.
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The Kentucky General Assembly stepped in and passed legislation confirming its legality in February. But it was not without controversy. Some detractors made a moral argument against the machine.
“Senate Bill 120 on saving slot machines,” Rep. Chris Fugate, a Republican from Eastern Kentucky said during the House floor debate. “That’s what it’s about, gambling. There are many families in America that have been torn apart because of gambling. Gambling has caused many heartbreaks.”
In fiscal year 2020, the state’s general fund will receive only $15 million of the industry’s $189 million commission on HHR. A member of the state parliament called this as a “sweetheart deal” for the horse industry and many called for an increase in the tax rate to bring it more in line with the surrounding countries.
Ultimately, the tax rate remains the same, and lawmakers plan a task force to examine the changes before the 2022 legislative session. For now, that means Kentucky’s horse racing industry will continue raking in money from this ever-increasing cash cow like decades-old horse racing. ensure that more real continues to run.
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Related stories Churchill Downs scraps plans for a $300 million hotel project Place your bets on Churchill Downs’ Horse Betting Facility in Newport Bill To Legalize The History Of Horse Racing Moves To The Senate Floor Churchill Downs Eye Building Northern Kentucky TrackA game machine at Colonial Downs. The General Assembly says this is ‘Historic Racing Machine’, but the columnist recalls them by a different name. file / DANIEL SANGJIB MIN / Times-Dispatch
I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. But there they were on the racetrack floor at Colonial Downs in New Kent.
Slot machines on the eastern edge of the Bible Belt! The old devil apparently sneaked in when no one was looking.
The crazy thing is that this slot is legal in a state that swears the slot machine is illegal. I mean, we just don’t have casino gambling here in Virginia. Well, brother, we have won now.
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Slot machines exist with the blessing of the Virginia General Assembly, with only one vote against them. And legislation slipped through quietly and under false pretenses.
Here’s how it went down. Colonial Downs, the only racetrack in Virginia, closed a few years ago after about two decades of operation. The track, built in a rural area just off Interstate 64 between Richmond and Williamsburg, could not make enough money in horse racing.
While Virginia horsemen, who had long lobbied for the track, lamented his death, Colonial Downs, which boasts one of the finest turf tracks in America, was sold. The new owners wanted a source of revenue that would support the track when the horses weren’t running.
The “Historic Racing Machine” is billed as a machine that allows patrons to bet on races run in previous years at various tracks. The horses will have no name and no history, just numbers. The tale was that handicappers would come and bet on this machine race.
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Being a bit of a handicapper, I know from