Racetrack gaming machines rake in $594,000 in five days

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- A south-central Kentucky racetrack is reporting receipts of more than a half-million dollars from new gaming machines during the devices' first five days of operation there.

Kentucky Downs President Corey Johnsen said a total of $594,431 was wagered on the Franklin, Ky., track's 197 machines in the five-day period, an average of $603.48 per day per machine. The track began offering the game last Thursday.

Johnsen told the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission on Wednesday in Lexington that $53,536 was taken out for the track and taxes, including $8,916 for the state.

The game is under legal review in the state Court of Appeals after the Family Foundation of Kentucky asked for an injunction to halt operation of the games. If the court rules against the games, Kentucky Downs could have to remove the machines. The track is the only one in the state offering the game.

The machines, based on a pari-mutuel wagering system using past horses races, resemble casino-style slot machines.

Johnsen said the track launched the machines with a soft opening to limit any initial problems and said Kentucky Downs would begin marketing the new game in earnest next week.

"We wanted to make sure that our systems, our operation, our level of customer service, our facility all worked in a first-class manner, and I'm very pleased to report to you today that that is the case," Johnsen told the commission.

Johnsen said attendance has been 500 to 1,000 a day in the area where the gaming machines are located. Officials from Oaklawn Park in Arkansas have been on hand to help with Kentucky Downs' launch. Arkansas first offered the game, dubbed "Instant Racing," in 2000.

Johnsen said the opening-week wagering numbers are in line with expectations and that there is room for considerable growth as customers learn more about the wager. Arkansas sees daily track and state revenues in excess of $100 per day per machine, approximately double Kentucky Downs' opening-week take.

"We're going to be ready to take this new product and grow with it and generate significant revenue for the horse industry and for the state," Johnsen said.

Kentucky Downs will begin its annual four-day live race meet on Saturday. Johnsen said additional revenue from Instant Racing, which will be offered year-round, will allow the track to apply for two more live race days in 2012 and to stay open additional days for simulcast wagering on races at other tracks. The facility near the Tennessee border also offers charitable bingo.

Johnsen said the Nashville market would be its main advertising target. The only gambling option in Tennessee is the state lottery.

"Today, 90 percent of people who walk through the door for the charitable bingo have Tennessee license plates. So, ultimately, Nashville will be our largest market."

The track invested $3 million, hiring 85 new workers, to launch the new games.