LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) – Historical Horse Race Gaming has been temporarily shuttered at the Red Mile in Lexington after last week’s Kentucky Supreme Court ruling that it would not rehear an appeal on a September ruling that said it was illegal.
The Keeneland Association and the Red Mile issued a joint press release on Sunday morning announcing the decision to close.
“We were disappointed the Kentucky Supreme Court denied our petition for rehearing. At this time, Keeneland and Red Mile have made the very difficult decision to temporarily close historical horse racing operations until there is more clarity surrounding the situation,” the statement read. “We have confidence the Kentucky legislature will continue its efforts to protect jobs and state revenue generated by historical horse racing, as well as protect Kentucky’s signature horse racing industry.”
Red Mile’s website said it would close at the end of business Sunday and a reopening date was not decided.
The gaming machines are like slot machines and do not fall under the state’s definition of parimutuel wagering despite the industry saying payouts are based on results of old horse races invisible to the player. That form of gaming was challenged by opponents in the courts as being illegal and the Supreme Court unanimously agreed.
The Kentucky Supreme Court’s opinion and order reversed a decision in 2018 by the Franklin County Circuit Court that approved the games. The state Supreme Court’s decision, which said that the Franklin County court had applied the incorrect legal standard, sends the case back to the Franklin County court.
“We understand the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission will implement any required changes consistent with the Franklin Circuit Court’s judgement once issued, and we will work with KHRC accordingly,” the statement said. “Our priority remains working on a legislative solution that will protect Kentucky’s signature industry, the $5.2 billion economic impact it brings to our state and the direct and indirect jobs of 60,000 Kentuckians who benefit from HHR.”
The Franklin County court had not entered any judgment since the Kentucky Supreme Court sent the case back to the lower court.
Parimutuel gaming, like the wagering put on live horse racing, is legal in Kentucky. However, casino gambling is not.
In September, the Supreme Court ruled 7-0 that HHR machines do not “create a wagering pool among patrons such that they are wagering among themselves as required for pari-mutuel wagering.”
Churchill Downs Inc. owns three historical racing operations – Louisville’s Derby City Gaming, Newport Racing & Game and Oak Grove Racing, Gaming & Hotel near the Tennessee border. Those operations remain open, according to a statement.
With the judicial avenue effectively blocked for now, the Thoroughbred industry will be pushing for new legislation although the short session that ends in March could make it difficult in 2021.
Gov. Andy Beshear said he was in favor of finding a “path forward” for Historical Horse Racing because of the economic impact.
“Historical Horse Racing is an important part of Kentucky’s economy that supports jobs and contributes over $21 million to the state budget,” he said. “We are working with various partners to find a path forward.”
Stan Cave, attorney for The Family Foundation, which filed the suit in September, said at the time of the September ruling, “I'm appreciative of the Supreme Court's 7-0 decision. It's time for the tracks to stop until the law is determined by the General Assembly and not a state agency.”
Any bill would have an uphill climb anyway with the Republican-led House and Senate where many conservatives would be less likely to endorse gambling.