As director of wagering development for Keeneland Association, few know the Kentucky gaming landscape as well as Jim Goodman. In his nearly two decades with the heralded Lexington racetrack, Goodman has been at the forefront of anticipating the needs of bettors and customers and creating the most ideal wagering experience possible.
With Kentucky sports betting finally legalized this year, Goodman has had his skillset amplified even more with retail sports wagering launching on Sept. 7 and online sports betting set to go live in the Bluegrass State at 6 a.m. ET on Sept. 28.
Ahead of the launch of Kentucky sports betting apps, Goodman spoke with Gaming Today about the impact sports wagering has already had since brick-and-mortar locations opened — including the sportsbook at Red Mile Gaming & Racing, which is a joint venture with Keeneland and a partner with Caesars Kentucky — and what the full breadth of the industry could ultimately look like in the Commonwealth.
Initial Kentucky Sports Betting Returns Strong
GT: It’s been just over two weeks since in-person betting went live in Kentucky. How has the initial response been at the Red Mile since the retail launch, and what are the expectations for the mobile launch?
JG: “We’ve been extremely happy with the response. I think the Governor (Andy Beshear) put out last week that the first two weekends of in-person betting did over $4 million in handle. We were a good chunk of that. I don’t think I need to put out the numbers but we were very happy when we saw the state total numbers and that we were doing very well here. (Sportsbook partner) Caesars is very happy with it, the Lexington community seems to be very happy with it.
We have a nice facility here. The clubhouse here at the Red Mile is a historic building and we were in the process of remodeling it when sports betting passed. So, we kind of did a little bit of modifications and then Caesars came in and did some more modifications and got it ready and it’s a beautiful facility.
We’ve been able to handle the crowds okay. When you walk in, sometimes there is a long line but it really disperses quickly. It may look like 20 people in line but it will only take five to 10 minutes to get that line down.”
Retail Options Still Being Considered for Keeneland
GT: What is the possibility of a retail sportsbook eventually being opened at Keeneland?
JG: “There have been no decisions made about when we would do something onsite at Keeneland. We didn’t put something at Keeneland yet. We made a decision to put (the retail sportsbook) at the Red Mile because we already had a facility here. We already had a gaming facility; we’re doing simulcasting here, and it was a fairly simple process to get something going.
At Keeneland, you’ve got the property there that would require some sort of modification or some sort of new building. So, very simply, it was easy to get it done at the Red Mile. It’s a very good location to downtown, people were in the habit of coming here for gaming and simulcasting anyway so that’s why we decided to do it at the Red Mile.
One thing we are doing at Keeneland is the Caesars Kentucky mobile app will be activated by opening day of Fall Meet (Oct. 6) so you will be able to bet on your app out there. We’re going to be signing people up for the app at Wagering Central. So, if someone has just heard about sports betting becoming legal in Kentucky and they’re not aware that we don’t have it at Keeneland, we can do one of two things. We can say hey, Red Mile is six miles away or you can sign up for the mobile app, and we’ll help you do that here.”
Kentucky Sports Betting a ‘Pleasant Surprise’
GT: Were you surprised sports betting was legalized in Kentucky this year after so many previously stymied efforts?
JG: “We were, but it was pleasantly surprised. We’re very happy it went through. There were people working on it up until the last day and … the landscape just turned out to be good. All the states around us had already done it and I think it’s been a good thing for us.
It’s already increased the traffic at the Red Mile. One thing I’ve seen is a lot of new faces. When I go down to the racebook and I talk to people, I say, ‘Were you already coming here?’ and they’ll say ‘No, I haven’t been here in 20 years’. If you have only been to the Red Mile 20 years ago, you need to come back.
I’m really happy about the fact that I walk in and there is traffic coming in and out. Especially on the weekends for NFL and college football, it was already busy at 9 a.m. We’re seeing a lot of new faces that may not have been exposed to the gaming floor or to simulcasting or even live racing here.”
Impact of Kentucky Sports Betting on Horse Racing
GT: While the handle from sports betting is not going to the horsemen or purse money per se, how do you feel the horse racing industry benefits from having sports betting tied to the state’s racetracks?
JG: “The money (from sports betting) is not directed toward purses but I think it’s going to help the visibility of the tracks more so than anything else, and hopefully attract somebody that’s been used to sports betting. If they’ve been betting sports in Kentucky, they’ve been doing one of two things: they’re either driving across the river to Indiana or Ohio or they’re playing offshore. If we can take that money that has been going offshore and put it back into Kentucky in some fashion that they’re spending money here instead of going offshore, that’s a big plus.
What we’ve done here is, and we made sure Caesars was good with it, we’ve got horse racing terminals in the sportsbook so that you can bet on horse racing or sports. We also put two terminals upstairs in simulcasting and put four terminals on the gaming floor. We’ve tried to integrate everything so that if you want to come here to play sports but then you also want to go over and play the horses, it’s pretty easy to do that.
I’m thankful to the Kentucky legislature for passing (sports betting) and thankful to the Governor for promoting it and being a supporter from Day One. Everyone worked together for a common cause, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”