Churchill Downs Confirms Plans for Historical Horse Racing Venue Near Owensboro, Kentucky
Churchill Downs Inc, or CDI, will be going ahead with a historical horse racing centered venue in Daviess County.
With the announcement, Churchill Downs is following through on the plans of Laguna Development Corp., the previous owners of the nearby Ellis Park Racetrack (pictured).
Churchill Downs, host of the famous Kentucky Derby horse race, bought its fellow Kentucky racetrack from Laguna in 2022 for $79 million.
The new venue will be an annex to the Ellis Park track. It will focus on slots-like historical horse racing, or HHR machines.
These games let bettors wager on anonymized old horse races, so the outcome of each bet has already been determined. However, players can choose to skip the video feed of the race and instead see it displayed on reels – turning into a faster-paced slot style game.
CDI did not release much information in its press release announcing the venue plans. But it promised more developments soon.
“This new facility will support purse funding for Ellis Park race meets. The Company will provide updated development and investment plans, as well as the location of the property, in the coming months,” it said.
As far as location goes, CDI said it would be just outside the Owensboro city limits, near Kentucky’s border with Indiana.
Churchill Downs intends to invest $75 million on redeveloping the Ellis Park racecourse in Henderson, which is also not far from the border with Indiana.
Laguna had promised a $100 million budget for its planned HHR venue. It is not clear how much Churchill Downs is looking to spend on the project.
Laguna had earmarked a central Owensboro location. But Churchill Downs has confirmed its site will be outside the city limits.
CDI has previous experience buying out other Kentucky racetracks and successfully redeveloping them. In 2019, it bought Turfway Park near Cincinnati for $45 million. A $145 million refurbishment of the venue was completed when it reopened for business in September 2022.
The Ellis Park investment has proved a prescient one for CDI over the past month. After a series of horse deaths during races at the main Churchill Downs course, a thorough top-to-bottom investigation of the facility was launched.
This meant CDI had to move its ongoing Spring Meet races in June to the newly purchased Ellis Park.
Twelve racing horses died at the Downs over a two month span from April to June, including two deaths on the day of the prestigious Kentucky Derby.
Historic Horse Racing
The HHR machines planned for the new venue are popular with bettors in Kentucky. Over 4,000 of them were in operation in the state in 2021, and Churchill Downs is now looking to add several hundred more.
However, the law hasn’t always seen them so favorably. In 2021, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled them unconstitutional and recommended a ban.
State lawmakers fought back for Kentucky’s venerable horse racing institutions. Within a month, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear (D) signed a bill that amended the gaming legislation to keep HHR machines legal.
The first Historic Horse Racing machines were invented in the late ’90s by Eric Jackson, general manager at Oaklawn Park Racetrack and Casino in Arkansas. They debuted at the Oaklawn in 2000 and proved a hit with players and other operators.
Today, HHR machines are legal at select and licensed venues in Kentucky and six other states: Virginia, Wyoming, Lousiana, Kansas, New Hampshire, and Alabama. Sports betting has been legal in Kentucky since March this year.