Churchill Downs, Keeneland Break Ground on $150M Horse Racing Venue at Kentucky-Tennessee Border

Posted on: April 10, 2019, 02:00h. 

Last updated on: April 10, 2019, 07:42h.

The two giants of Kentucky’s horse racing scene came together in the western portion of the state on Tuesday to break ground on a $150 million complex.

The groundbreaking for Oak Grove Racing & Gaming took place on Tuesday. The harness racing track and instant racing venue is owned by a partnership created by Churchill Downs and Keeneland. Racing will start this fall, with other amenities opening next year. (Image: R2Architects LLC)

Officials from Churchill Downs Inc. and Keeneland celebrated the start of work on Oak Grove Racing & Gaming. The development, named for the town in which it will be based, will offer standardbred harness racing when the track opens this fall. By June 2020, Oak Grove will feature a gaming venue featuring up to 1,500 historical racing machines.

Historical racing machines, also known as instant racing, use video gaming terminals that look like slot machines. However, they use a previously completed race to determine winners. Bettors can select horses at random or use racing charts to help select the top three finishers. Last fall, a Kentucky judge ruled the machines are legal as they fit within the definition of pari-mutuel betting.

Kentucky currently features four instant racing centers with more than 2,700 machines. Kentucky Downs in Franklin, located on the Tennessee border in south-central part of the state, and Henderson’s Ellis Park opened in 2011. Derby City Gaming, a Louisville venue owned by Churchill Downs, opened last September. Keeneland, located in Lexington, joined forces with local harness track the Red Mile to open theirs in 2015.

“We have seen the tremendous impact Derby City Gaming in Louisville has already had on both the racing industry and local community, and we expect the same degree of success here in Christian County,” Churchill Downs President Kevin Flanery said.

Since its opening, Derby City Gaming has increased its handle every month, generating nearly $407 million in bets. Last month, bettors wagered more than $92.6 million on Derby City’s 900 machines. Keeneland’s 902 machines have generated more than $231.8 million in wagers since the start of the fiscal year in July. Kentucky levies a 1.5 percent excise tax off the total handle. Keeneland’s venue has produced $3.5 million this year, while Derby City has created $6.1 million. The state splits the tax proceeds between the general fund and horse-related funds.

Tourism Impact

Racing and gaming are the main drivers for Oak Grove, a town of 7,500 across the border from Clarksville, Tenn. It’s also adjacent to Fort Campbell, which is home to more than 20,000 active-duty soldiers and their families.

However, the complex will include a 128-room hotel and an amphitheater that holds 3,000. It also features a 30-pad park for recreational vehicles and a 1,200-seat grandstand. R2Architects LLC, which designed River City Gaming for Churchill Downs, provided the design work for Oak Grove.

Churchill and Keeneland officials expect Oak Grove to generate 400 full- and part-time jobs.

Brooke Jung, executive director for the Hopkinsville Convention and Visitors Bureau in Christian County, told that Oak Grove will quickly become a top-notch attraction for the community.

Churchill Downs and Keeneland are proven winners, with reputations for elevating visitor experiences, so we know this project will be no different,” she said. “Additionally, we anticipate this new venue will spur additional growth throughout the community, creating significant economic impact for the entire county.”

Another Venture Planned

Churchill Downs and Keeneland first announced their plans to pursue a venue in southwestern Kentucky in September 2017. At the time, the partners revealed plans for two projects. The other was for a live and instant racing venue in Corbin. However, the project in Corbin, a southeastern Kentucky town 25 miles from Tennessee, is currently on hold.

In November, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission approved a racing license for WKY Development, LLC, the CDI-Keeneland joint venture. The license gave WKY Development the ability to run harness racing on 12 dates at Oak Grove. WKY Development beat out proposals by Kentucky Downs and a Caesars Entertainment collaboration with Paducah, Ky.-based Bluegrass Downs.

Churchill Downs owns 95 percent of WKY Development.

Oak Grove will take over the dates once held by Thunder Ridge Park, which closed last year.