Kentucky’s three venues with the slot-like historical horse racing machines all continue to grow, according to the most recent statistics released by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. The question, as Churchill Downs Inc. prepares to enter the market this fall, is what kind of per machine wagering averages the state’s fourth parlor will see. Those averages vary widely by location.
The gross numbers, and even the daily per-machine averages, are improving.
The $115.9 million bet statewide in March on historical horse racing is up 27.5 percent over the previous March, and the nine-month fiscal-year-to-date total of $793.2 million is up 18.8 percent from the prior fiscal year. The average daily handle per machine of $2,039 for March is up 19.8 percent over the prior year, while the nine-month daily machine average of $1,578 is up 11.6 percent over the same period.
At The Red Mile-Keeneland joint facility at the Lexington standardbred track, the total handle of $30.2 million for March was up 6.9 percent, and the nine-month total of $215.1 million was up 8.1 percent over the prior year. The Red Mile machines averaged $1,081 a day in March, up 6.9 percent from the prior year. The nine-month daily machine average of $870 was up 8.1 percent over the prior fiscal year’s first nine months.
At Kentucky Downs, the state’s big cahuna, the total handle of $78.1 million for March was up 36.6 percent, and the nine-month total of $517.3 million was up 26 percent over the prior year. The Kentucky Downs machines averaged $3,346 a day in March, up 16.6 percent from the prior year. The nine-month daily machine average of $2,507 was up 7.2 percent over the prior fiscal year’s first nine months.
At Ellis Park, the total handle of $7.6 million for March was up 38.4 percent and the nine-month total of $60.8 million was up 4.5 percent over the prior year. The Ellis machines averaged $1,368 a day in March, up 35.8 percent from the prior year. The nine-month daily machine average of $1,239 was up 3.4 percent over the prior fiscal year’s first nine months.
Is it the number of machines? Kentucky Downs has 753 machines, Red Mile has 902 and Ellis has 179. Churchill plans to have 600, with space for up to 1,000.
Is it the machines? Keeneland-Red Mile announces it is in the process of installing Exacta Systems machines that are in place at the other two Kentucky parlors. Churchill is partnering with Australian company Ainsworth Game Technology for its machines.
Location and completion also matter. Kentucky Downs’ success benefits from a monopoly on the Nashville market. It also is the state’s original site for historical horse racing.
Ellis’ fewer machines handle more per machine in a contested gambling market (Evansville has a casino), while Red Mile has more machines than any other parlor in the state and less per-machine average volume despite being in the state’s second-largest city with no nearby competition.
Churchill’s parlor will represent a mix of those factors. Many, if not most, customers will live closer to Churchill’s Derby City Gaming at the old Sports Spectrum (Louisville Downs), but how many still will drive the extra distance to the full-service Horseshoe casino across the Ohio River in Harrison County, Indiana?
Time, and the numbers, will tell.