Turfway Park has another delay in renovations. (Photo: Melissa Reinert/The Enquirer)
FLORENCE – Protecting the Ohio casino market may be good for business, but according to Kentucky Racing Commission Vice Chairman Mark Simendinger, it’s bad for Kentucky racing.
But, that’s what he believes JACK Entertainment, owner of Jack Casino in Cincinnati and the Florence, Kentucky horse racetrack, Turfway Park, is doing.
“(JACK has) an interest in protecting their Ohio market and because they want to do that, maybe they’re holding Kentucky back,” Simendinger said.
This concern was brought to light at a December meeting of the Kentucky Racing Commision in which Turfway Park announced another delay in its proposed $25 million renovation project.
The project, announced last February, included a remodel of the grandstand, as well as new games and extended operations once the renovation was complete.
Makeover plans also included a revamped entrance, modern restrooms, restaurant upgrades, as well as dedicating part of the second floor of the grandstand for historical racing games.
Historical racing games are horse-race betting machines similar to slot machines that allow players to place bets on replays of horse races that have already been run.
According to Turfway Park General Manager Chip Bach, there is a delay because engineers discovered structural issues with the 60-year-old property that will need to be addressed as part of any ongoing construction.
“We are proceeding with the renovation and will work as quickly as we can to improve the aesthetics of the front and add 350 historical horse racing machines on the first floor,” Back said.
This will be considered as the first phase.
“We are still pursuing the larger scale construction, but JACK Entertainment wants to create a project where we get machines in as soon as possible to improve the guest experience, attract more guests and then from those profits invest in the longer term.”
With the machines, the grandstand would get a new coat of paint and new awnings.
Bach said he expects, as long as all goes well, the minor renovations will be complete and the machines will be up and running by June 1.
“We are meeting this week with the city and country for permits and hope to start actual work very soon,” Bach said.
For Simendinger, a Northern Kentucky resident, this is unacceptable and just another delay.
“We have heard a lot of different proposals over the last several years,” he said. “The approval of the machines was granted under the Beshear administration. The Beshear administration. So, you see how far these delays go back.”
In that time, Simendinger said that Churchill Downs requested approval for historical gaming machines, the request was granted, and they designed, built and now have a facility up and running to house those machines.
“They invested and were rewarded with good returns and its helped their racing program,” Simendinger said. “We need this for Turfway. With the delays, the real loser is the horse racing public, the people who make a living in this business. It’s bad for everybody – the horse owners the jockeys, those making the bets.”
Simendinger questions JACK Entertaiment’s commitment to Turfway.
“When you own a track you agree to be a steward for everyone who works their living in the horse racing business,” he said. “If that doesn’t appeal to you, then you shouldn’t own a track.”
Senior Vice President of Regional Operations and General Manager of JACK Casino Chad Barnhill said the company is committed to Turfway.
“We are actively working to finalize our plans to renovate Turfway Park and install historic horse racing machines,” he said in a statement. “The significant improvements will benefit our guests as they will have an exciting new amenity to enjoy as well as produce additional purses to support Kentucky’s storied horse racing industry.”
According to Paulick Report, a North American independent thoroughbred racing website, other racing commissioners expressed frustration during the December meeting. Some even questioned whether the commission could or should revoke Turfway’s license for historical horse racing, or even its racing license, to send a message to JACK Entertainment.
According to Paulick Report, Kentucky Racing Commissioner Frank Kling said the historical horse racing license had been issued without conditions at the time; all subsequent licenses have been given with conditions attached.
The commission has requested Bach return at the next regular meeting on Feb. 19 with more details on the proposed project.
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