A new type of gambling is now a part of the Lexington community. It’s called instant racing and it takes place at the $42 million Red Mile Entertainment Center. Doors opened three months ago.
Inside the Red Mile Entertainment Center, there are lots of flashing lights and various sounds emitting from the 900 plus Instant Racing terminals. The machines sit side by side, grouped closely together throughout the facility, much like a traditional casino.
Instant Racing or historical racing as it’s sometimes called, is an electronic gambling system in which players bet on replays of old horse races from tracks around the country. Dawn Gross and Mandi Whitehouse made their first visit to the Red Mile center.
“We’re just trying to figure it out. We just thought we’d come out with 20 bucks and see what we could do,” said Gross.
“That’s what we’re doing. We’re looking for cherries. We’re trying to win big money,” added Whitehouse.
Players, 21 years and older, can bet ten cents up to $5 a line with a maximum of $15 for one play. Red Mile Marketing Director Maria Deluca says this style of gambling is worlds away from the type of play experienced in Las Vegas. “Unlike a casino where you play against the house, we have no stake in the outcome of the game because we only get our fixed percentage,” said Deluca. “So customers are actually playing against other customers and that’s the whole pari-mutuel part of it.”
The pari-mutuel part of it is under debate in Kentucky. While there are three instant racing facilities of this kind currently operating in the commonwealth, this form of gambling is being challenged in Kentucky courts. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit argue that instant racing terminals are too similar to traditional slot machines, which are illegal to operate commercially in Kentucky.
A portion of the earnings from betting inside the Red Mile Entertainment Center go to boost horse racing purses, benefiting both Keeneland and the Red Mile. Deluca says the short videos shown on the machines come from a number of other tracks around the country and they also get a piece of the profits. Kentucky Thoroughbred Association Director Chauncey Morris says higher prize money can impact breeding and allow owners to sell their horses at a better price. “When you have growth in purses, when you have growth in attraction of more racing product, that stimulates the market demand,” said Morris.
Marty Meline is executive director of the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, which represents horse owners and Thoroughbred trainers. Meline says Kentucky Downs in Franklin has done well with instant racing. He says it’s not had as big an impact at Ellis Park in far western Kentucky, partly because of casino boats in nearby Evansville, Indiana. But Meline has high hopes for the Red Mile. “A lot of people feel that since there’s such a large populous in that area, that they will flock to that as an entertainment center," Meline said. "But, that remains to be seen.”
There’s been talk of bringing casinos to Kentucky for more than a decade, with lengthy debate on both sides, but expanded gambling has never passed the state legislature. Reverend Nancy Jo Kemper of Lexington is among those opposed to casinos and she has concerns about the Red Mile facility. “I find it discouraging and disappointing that it’s right in the middle of city next to the university,” said Kemper. “That’s what worries me as much as anything.”
According to various studies, about one percent of the population suffers from a gambling addiction. Another three percent fall into the category of problem gambler. Kentucky Council on Problem Gambling Director Mike Stone says any expansion of gambling presents a risk that more people will develop a problem. Stone says it’s not necessarily the length of time spent gambling that’s concerning, but he says an agitated player may need someone to intervene. “The individual is approached and asked if they are okay," Stone said. "You want to go have a cup of coffee or talk about how you are doing at the games or whatever?"
Stone says employees of the Red Mile Entertainment center underwent such training before the facility opened in September. Deluca says players can choose to turn in their Red Mile rewards card and opt-out of any direct mail or email. She says the daily attendance ranges from the hundreds to as high as a thousand a day on weekends.