Hundreds out of work following Churchill Downs meet move

Gamblers place their bets on horse races
Gamblers place their bets on horse races(WAVE)
Published: Jun. 5, 2023 at 3:37 PM CDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Now that the lights are off at Churchill Downs, hundreds of track workers are out of a job.

The mystery behind the deaths of a dozen racehorses prompted the early closure of the Spring Meet at Churchill Downs.

While the horsemen will move to Ellis Park, seasonal employees at the track will now lose a month’s worth of work.

For more than 50 years, Racetrack Employee Union President Donald Vest has helped fans place their bets on the Derby and every other race at Churchill Downs.

“I raised my family on it,” Vest said.

He can only think of one other shutdown over his career.

“Not at Churchill Downs, it did at Miles Park when they closed down,” Vest said.

The decision to move racing to Ellis Park will leave hundreds of seasonal workers looking for work a month early.

Vests’ union covers the pari mutuel tellers, maintance workers, and valets.

WAVE also reached out to the restaurant group providing food and beverage and its union leadership. There has been no response.

“We didn’t really expect that it would be the remainder of the meet, we thought it would be lets close down this and take a look at it, but it is what it is,” SEIU Office Manager George Skellie said.

He said many tellers no longer ride the circuit following racing around the state. They can get unemployment during the off season, but shortening this spring meet may leave them short on eligibility.

“For a lot of people that’s just not an option to draw on unemployment, just literally have that income gone,” Skellie said.

Vest said workers will have to find a way to survive. At least biding their time until the Fall Meet opens.

He said it was tough to see Churchill Downs go dark a month ahead of schedule.

“That’s the number one racetrack in the country, biggest race in the, it is sad,” Vest said.