Kentucky making inroads into gaming
Posted: Wednesday, January 18, 2012 6:46 am
By: Joe Edwards, Associated Press
By JOE EDWARDS
FRANKLIN, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky, the state of bourbon and bluegrass, hasn’t yet approved casino gambling, but there’s one spot that’s making inroads.
In tiny Franklin, near where Andrew Jackson and Sam Houston fought separate duels in the 1800s, Kentucky Downs horse racing track and simulcasting facility has offered “Instant Racing” since Sept. 1. It’s the site of Kentucky’s first gaming machines. And newly re-elected Gov. Steve Beshear wants more elsewhere.
“We’re building a base of patrons,” said Bill Flesher, spokesman for the business. “We’re proud to be the first.”
One thing you can bet on, though, is that this town of about 8,500 is no Las Vegas.
There are no shows with big-name entertainment: No Wayne Newton, no Celine Dion, no Elvis impersonators. There is no buffet, no hotel attached, no poker room.
In fact, Kentucky Downs has no official “casino.” It’s called a “gaming center.”
“This is different,” Flesher said. “There are no slot machines; it doesn’t have the feel of gambling.”
The gaming center, though, sure looks like a miniature Las Vegas casino.
It has 200 electronic machines, strongly resembling casino-style slot machines. The brightly lit machines have spinning icons and show the final three seconds of an old, actual horse race in a small corner of the screen. Players bet on the races as cocktail waitresses scurry about, making sure they are well-fortified.
The top of each machine lists the current jackpot in bold figures.
The minimum bet is 10 cents with individual bets of up to $1 available. Players can bet units so the maximum is $5.
Flesher said players have won about $700,000 in jackpots since September, including one of about $6,000.
On a recent Friday afternoon, Diana Searcy of Cross Plains was playing one of the machines at the end of a row.
“Get up there, little horse!” she yelled at the machine. “Some of them have got lead in their legs.”
Despite that lament, she said she’s hit three jackpots between $1,600 and $2,900 since she began playing in September.
The state racing commission says the total wagered on Instant Racing at Kentucky Downs was $8.4 million in November, $6.7 million in October and $4.3 million in September. The state gets 1.5 percent of the total amount bet.
“The Instant Racing wagering at Kentucky Downs has shown excellent acceptance by the customers, with the handle (amount bet) increasing at least 16 percent each month since its inception in September,” the commission said in a statement. “That is good news.”
The Family Foundation of Kentucky, a longtime opponent of the expansion of gaming in the state, has unsuccessfully challenged the game in court.
Beshear, just re-elected to a second term, has said he wants voters to decide whether to expand gambling beyond horse races, lotteries and charitable Bingo games.