FRANKLIN — “And they’re off,” Steve Thurmond said, signaling the opening of Kentucky Downs for instant racing.
The Franklin-Simpson County Chamber of Commerce executive director said the instant racing project has employed local workers both for the construction and in its operation, will increase tourism and tax dollars to the community and provide “much-needed revenue to help the horse industry that we all love so much.”
About 100 people showed up for Thursday’s ribbon-cutting and about 50 people were playing the machines during the racing room’s first hour of operation. Officials estimate that about 500 people came through the doors on instant racing’s first day of operation.
Former Simpson Circuit Judge William Harris didn’t want to proffer an opinion as to how a pending Court of Appeals case may turn out and impact the instant racing operation. A Franklin Circuit Court ruling that said the machines are legal is being challenged by the Family Foundation.
Harris spent $2 playing one of the machines to understand how they differ from slot machines.
“Now I understand what’s different on these machines from slots and how it relates to horse racing,” Harris said, noting the abbreviated racing form that players can use in selecting their top three horses just as they would at a racetrack.
A quick walk around the room showed many of the people playing were pressing the handi-helper button that allows the machines to randomly select those winners.
Nearly all of the people were unfamiliar with the machines; only Oaklawn in Arkansas has them. So Kentucky Downs employees were milling about, schooling patrons on the ins and outs if they needed help.
Lewis and Gerry Thomas came up from Nashville for the opening and have come to simulcasting at the track before.
Lewis fed a $5 bill into a $1 machine that was quickly gone before he got the hang of betting.
“These are completely different than slots,” he said.
Lewis went to a 25 cents machine and fed in more money, winning a few here and there. After an hour, he decided to head up to the simulcasting area.
“I didn’t do any good,” he said, walking up the stairs.
Harris said he expects that many of the people who come to the facility will be from Nashville and other parts of Tennessee. “That can’t help but be the case when you have 1 million people within a 45-minute drive,” Harris said.
A quick perusal of the parking lot showed the majority of the cars had Tennessee tags on them.
Randy Coulter of Bowling Green, who came to the facility with his brothers, Jim and Roger, said he also believes there will be many people from Nashville who visit the facility.
“I go to Harrah’s in Metropolis (Ill.) regularly and I know there are a lot of people from Nashville who go there because it’s the closest gaming facility for them,” Coulter said. “I would think some of them would come here.”
Coulter said the machines really are different than slot machines, so he was going to use them first and then teach his brothers the ins and outs of them.
Coulter, like many others at Kentucky Downs, expects that they will come a couple of times a week.
“I just enjoy it,” he said. “You have to use your head. You can’t come here and spend your children’s milk money. Just play what you can afford.”
Brad Gregory of Franklin considers himself a disciplined player. He already frequents Kentucky Downs for the simulcasting and expects he will continue to come for both.
The instant racing machines have the look and feel of a slot machine while being different. “But they are very easy to understand,” he said.
Gregory said he thinks instant racing will be a boon for the track and Franklin.
“They are quality people with a quality operation and deserve this opportunity,” he said.
Ultimately, the goal is to use the additional revenue expected from instant racing to generate more purse money and expand live racing at the track. The race meet this year is Sept. 10, 12, 17 and 19.
—For more information about instant racing or the track, go to kentuckydowns.com.