Sports Betting ‘Icing On The Cake’ For Kentucky Track Near Tennessee

A Kentucky gambling facility near the Tennessee border is hopeful for sports betting legislation passing in the Bluegrass State in 2021.

According to a report from the Bowling Green Daily News, the Kentucky Downs racetrack in Franklin, Ky., plans to open a new expansion in September, which includes a 30,000-square-foot gaming hall with historical racing machines.

The first part of the $20 million expansion announced last year is almost finished. Kentucky Downs will call the new space the Mint Gaming Hall, and the project will feature other amenities such as a bar and other entertainment options.

The property said it will eventually pursue plans for a hotel.

Gambling on already completed horse races is big business for the facility, as it is looking to add more than 1,000 HHR machines by the time the entire expansion is finished in 2021.

Ted Nicholson, Kentucky Downs senior vice president and general manager, told the Bowling Green Daily News the racetrack is currently seeing about $90 million in handle per month from its 500 HHR machines. That’s about what it was seeing before the virus, according to the report. That’s despite the pandemic requiring the property to undergo social distancing guidelines and other safety precautions.

Sports betting on the horizon?

Kentucky Downs is only about 40 miles north of Nashville.

The Volunteer State doesn’t have any casinos or racetracks, but it will soon have online/mobile sportsbooks, expected to launch later this year. Tennessee legalized sports betting in 2019 but it has taken longer than expected to launch the platforms.

That’s good for Kentucky Downs, as it doesn’t currently face a popular legalized form of gambling just across the Kentucky-Tennessee border.

Kentucky has debated sports betting since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the federal prohibition two years ago, but thus far state lawmakers have been unable to hash out a bill. Kentucky would more than likely allow retail wagering at its racetracks and online/mobile books tethered to them as well. Kentucky has considered a provision requiring in-person online/mobile account registration.

Tennessee, of course, didn’t include that in its law because it doesn’t have the brick-and-mortar facilities.

Still, Kentucky Downs would stand to benefit from retail sports wagering from people in both Kentucky and Tennessee who are looking to have the experience of an in-person sportsbook. Sometimes it’s more fun to go to the casino. Nicholson said Kentucky Downs is optimistic about 2021.

“We’re hoping that can pass in 2021,” he said. “We’ve been close a couple of times. If we can add sports betting, that will be icing on the cake.”