• The Louisville Thoroughbred Society has partnered with Churchill Downs to offer horse racing betting in downtown Louisville.
  • The venue could also host Kentucky sports betting upon legalization.
  • The private club is expected to open its doors sometime in early 2020.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – While traditional casino gambling is not legal in Kentucky, horse racing betting is. After all, the state is the home to the famous Churchill Downs track and its marquee Kentucky Derby.

Ironically, however, off-track betting (OTB) venues are barred under state law. Most states with pari-mutuel horse racing betting embrace the OTB model, making Kentucky an unusual holdout.

The lack of OTB options has long been railed against by horseplayers and various gaming-friendly organizations in the state.

To expand the footprint of horse racing betting in Kentucky, a group of investors – including Churchill Downs, Inc. – has undertaken to construct a downtown Louisville “racetrack extension.”

The facility, dubbed the Louisville Thoroughbred Society, will offer pari-mutuel betting and simulcast wagering.

Though OTBs remain illegal, the venue is not technically considered to be “off-track.” The Louisville Courier Journal explains how the project jibes with what seems like a wholly contradictory legal environment.

“Kentucky law allows licensed racetracks to conduct live racing at any facility or real property that is owned, leased or purchased by a licensee within a 60-mile radius to operate as part of the racetrack, even one where the location is not contiguous to the track premises, as long as the [Kentucky Horse Racing Commission] signs off.”

Last Tuesday, the commission did exactly that. The vote was unanimous.

The result is that the Louisville Thoroughbred Society’s building is now technically a part of the Churchill Downs track, located nearly four miles away. Further, Churchill Downs is the venue’s licensed gaming operator.

The Louisville Thoroughbred Society will operate as a private club, with membership dues of $1595 per year.

Amenities slated for inclusion at the club include 12 self-service pari-mutuel wagering machines, indoor and outdoor bars, an outdoor cigar lounge, and events like handicapping seminars and watch parties for the biggest horse racing events.

The venue will also offer historical horse racing (HHR) – or “instant racing” – machines, which gambling critics say are effectively illegal slot machines.

However, this isn’t the only aspect that anti-gambling activists in the state find troubling.

According to Martin Cothran of the Family Foundation of Kentucky, the venue’s investors are banking on future sports betting opportunities.

“They’re betting that the legislature is going to pass [legal sports betting] and there’s a chance they’re right. They apparently have enough money themselves from people who have lost wages…to build facilities that are a little bit of a gamble for them.”

The Louisville Thoroughbred Society – located at 209 E. Main St. – should open its doors to the public in early 2020.

It is unlikely that legal sports betting will be an option upon its grand opening. The Kentucky state legislature didn’t move on any of the state’s five proposals before adjourning in late March.

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