The Kentucky Derby will survive

Jul 14, 2009 5:06 PM
by Ray Poirier | The Kentucky Derby will survive even though Churchill Downs isn’t competing "on a level playing field" with tracks that benefit from slot machine revenue.

That’s what Bob Evans, CEO of Churchill Downs Inc. (CHDN) said last week while lamenting the fact that the Kentucky Senate refused to even consider a bill passed in the House that would have permitted the track to install video lottery machines (VLT).

"The playing field is no longer level. We’re not even close to it," said Evans as he viewed the future of horse racing in Kentucky.

A dozen states have already approved VLTs and have shown that the machines dramatically improve the purses being offered.

"Slots aren’t going to save racing," said Evans, "but they are going to determine who in racing survives. (Senate President David) Williams and his supporters have put Kentucky racing on the Do Not Resuscitate list."

The bleak financial outlook put a damper on one of the most successful spring meets in recent memory at Churchill Downs. In addition to the underdog story of 50-1 shot Mine That Bird, the track generated some much-needed buzz during the final weeks of the meet by hosting three night racing events.

Also being affected by the Senate’s action is Ellis Park where the summer racing season has been cut in half. Owner Ron Geary has said that he will likely close the western Kentucky track for good if an alternative gaming bill isn’t passed.

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Ray Poirier