FRANKLIN – Ron Winchell and Marc Falcone are doubling down on their investment in Franklin’s Kentucky Downs horse racing and entertainment venue.
Winchell and Falcone, through their Kentucky Racing Acquisition group, were approved in February by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission as the new majority owners of the track along U.S. 31-W.
Less than eight months later, they are ready to move ahead with plans to expand Kentucky Downs. Their plans to add 18,000 square feet to the facility, give it an exterior facelift and add new dining options were given preliminary approval Tuesday by the Franklin-Simpson Planning and Zoning Commission and could move forward before Halloween.
“We hope to break ground this month and finish the expansion by late July,” said R.T. Browning, a consultant to the Kentucky Racing Acquisition group who has planned similar building projects for Station Casinos in Las Vegas.
Browning said the plans call for adding about 13,000 square feet of gaming space to accommodate the explosive growth of the facility’s historical horse racing machines. The remaining 5,000 square feet in the expansion will be for “ancillary” additions such as expanded food offerings and entertainment.
Nate Williams, a project manager with the I-5 Design Group that is designing the Kentucky Downs project, said the expansion will be followed shortly by a remodeling of much of the interior.
Browning said the project, estimated to cost $20 million, is an effort to enhance the property through expanded gambling, live entertainment and dining.
“The owners recognize that they can improve the product for the customers,” Browning said. “They see the potential for this track.”
That potential is already evident in the growth of the HHR machines at Kentucky Downs, which opened in 1990 as Dueling Grounds Race Course. Since the introduction of the HHR machines, betting on racing at Kentucky Downs has increased from $20 million in 2010 to $800 million in 2018.
That has translated into bigger purses for the five-day live racing held at the track in late summer.
Valeria Strafe, vice president of operations at Kentucky Downs, said there are no plans to expand the live racing. The additional live entertainment and dining options should mean an increase of “15 to 20 percent” in the track’s workforce of 300, Strafe said.
Simpson County Judge-Executive Mason Barnes said the Kentucky Downs expansion is a welcome addition to the county’s economy.
“One of the things that drives the economy is tourism,” Barnes said. “Kentucky Downs brings more people into Simpson County than any other venue. I’m glad to see that the new owners are willing to expand.”
The KRA group headed by Winchell and Falcone purchased Kentucky Downs from Kentucky Downs Partners, which had owned the track since 2007.
Winchell is a partner in Lexington’s Winchell Thoroughbreds, which owns more than 120 horses, including racing and breeding stock. He also operates more than 20 gaming locations across Nevada.
Falcone has served as executive vice president and chief financial officer of Nevada’s Red Rock Resorts and Station Casinos.