Who would have ever thought that horse racing in Kentucky would be at risk? But that is exactly what is happening!
And, the only solution seems to be adding video gaming, something the Kentucky Legislature will be debating very soon.
On Friday, the owner of Ellis Park, Ron Geary, flew a group of us (WFIE General Manager Debbie Bush, WFIE Reporter Brandon Bartlett, WFIE Chief Photographer Dave Couch, Gleaner Business Editor Chuck Stinnett, and Louisville's WHAS Talk Radio Host Francene Cucinello) to visit two so-called "racinos" near Indianapolis. We visited Hoosier Park and Indiana Downs. Business is booming and between the two of them, brings in more than 350 million dollars per year.
This season, Ellis Park hopes to bring in 12 million dollars.
And, the news is grim. To increase the purses or prize money to attract horses, Ellis Park had to reduce the number of racing days from forty-eight to twenty-three.
Even the grand-daddy of Kentucky horse racing is feeling the pinch. Churchill Downs is already cancelling some weekday races.
Owners of mares and stallions are moving horses to other states, like Indiana and Pennsylvania because of racing incentives for colts born in those states. Those states have a law allowing slots at race tracks.
If the Commonwealth allows Video Lottery Terminals (VLT) in our Kentucky race tracks, it's estimated that Ellis Park could be up and running by the end of the first quarter of 2010 (with a temporary tent), bring in 80 million the first year and employ 300 new people.
That's still about twenty or thirty million dollars or so more less than what Casino Aztar makes, but it means saving the racing tradition in our area.
Without the new legislation, Geary says Ellis Park will close for good after Labor Day.
Our stand: contact your legislators. Ask them to keep racing in the great Commonwealth of Kentucky! Here is a link to their contact information.
To respond to this editorial, send an e-mail or call 812-253-0107. You can send a letter to me at: Debbie Bush, WFIE-TV, and P.O. Box 1414, Evansville, IN 47701.
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