Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

February 21, 2013

Another track?

Keeneland plans Quarter Horse racing in Corbin

The Independent

ASHLAND — Keeneland is talking with a Nevada-based company about building a new racetrack in Kentucky, but this track will not be featuring the Thoroughbreds that have made the Lexington racetrack so popular. Instead, Keeneland and Full House Resorts of Nevada are planning to build a Quarter Horse racetrack near Corbin.

The plan also calls for Keeneland and Full House Resorts purchasing the Thunder Ridge harness track and “reinventing it,” Keeneland president and CEO Bill Thomason told the Lexington Herald-Leader in an exclusive interview. While that sounds kike good news for the struggling harness racing tack in Prestonsburg, many beleive Keeneland’s only interest in Thunder Ridge is to close it and move it to Corbin.  If so, that’s the kind of “reinvention” was will have a negative impact in Prestonsburg.

 “We think we’re putting things forward that will be a great help to the industry and the sport,” Thomason said of plans for the Corbin track. “We’re looking to the long term, looking to do something big, and it will be special. ... We think the community will embrace it and enjoy it and it will provide economic gains.”

Keeneland leaders said they envision a “Keeneland-esque” facility that would offer simulcasting and instant racing in addition to a boutique summertime Quarter Horse meet of about a dozen race dates. “We’re going to build a modern facility, scaled to the market ... that will grow to meet the demands of the area,” Thomason said.

The proposal would need regulatory approval before it could proceed.

State Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said there’s a market for the track.

“I think Keeneland should be lauded for its desire to take the Keeneland model and bring in a new partner and build a new racing and simulcasting facility in Kentucky,” Thayer said. “Don’t see many people building new racetracks these days. ... There is pent-up demand for race dates, Quarter Horses in this part of the country who want to run, and fans who will come to see them race.”

Full House operates casinos in Indiana, Nevada, Mississippi and New Mexico and would share ownership and operation of the facility in southern Kentucky.

Jim Dacey, spokesman for Full House Resorts, said the companies would work together to determine the scope of the facility, but it will be a “casino-entertainment complex.”

The proposal came as a surprise to Knox County Judge-Executive J.M. Hall, but he told the Lexington newspaper the idea sounded like a good one.

“I would love to have a racetrack in Knox County. Like a Keeneland, here? If we have something here, we could pull in people from Tennessee,” Hall said. “That would be pretty big.”

Racetracks that thrive on wagering are banned in Tennessee. That greatly increases the odds of a track near the Tennessee border thriving, and by featuring Quarter Horse races, the track would not be competing with existing tracks that complain they have trouble getting enough top Thoroughbreds to race in Kentucky.

Still, approval of a Quarter Horse racetrack in Kentucky is far from a sure bet. Opposition to new forms of gambling in the state is strong, and some would consider adding betting on Quarter Horses to the parimutuel wagering that has existed at Thoroughbred tracks for decades a new form of gambling. And it is clear Full House Resorts does not want to limit the gambling at the Corbin track to betting on horses. It wants a full-blown casino at the track.

While we think a casino would require voter approval of a constitutional amendment that legislators so far have refused to even put on the ballot, adding a Quarter Horse track to the existing Thoroughbred tracks would be a way to create jobs and improve the economy in Kentucky. We like the idea.