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Instant Racing and its Status in Kentucky's Racetracks

Added on: Feb. 7, 2013

Can you imagine wagering on a horse race that has already taken place? Well, on the surface that sounds as if you have "past-posted" the wager, and that would raise a red flag. But no; instead it is a phenomenon that has added untold amounts of revenue to race tracks in Kentucky and elsewhere. It's called "instant racing."

Instant racing involves a video terminal, in effect, that shows the customer a race that has taken place at some point in the past. Since there have been thousands and thousands of races, from many, many venues, the chances of someone being able to know these races and their results on sight are remote at best. These are very innocuous races, and despite the fact that there is certain information and racing data that is presented to the customer, it is still quite a challenge, and in many ways, a game of chance. In fact, they bear a strong resemblance to slot machines, which is probably intentional.

Based on instinct and whatever information the player can gather and/or digest, he or she makes a wager on the race that is about to be shown them on the screen. These machines first appeared at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas a decade ago, and they were such a success that other venues have placed them under consideration, with interest eventually moving to Kentucky in 2011.

The idea of casino-style games in the state's racetracks would have a first-year economic impact of $1.7 billion, according to one study, and while the governor is very much in favor of it, the legislature has shown resistance. An advisory opinion was sought from Jack Conway, the attorney general, on the subject of instant racing, which is an unusual proposition if you are hearing about it for the first time. Of course, there was a conflict for Conway, because he was a horseman himself - the owner, among others, of Stately Victor, a leading three-year-old, and his father was on the state's racing commission. Obviously instant racing was something that was going to benefit racetracks. Conway's opinion was that instant racing could be legal if it was run within a pari-mutuel framework, and that is the way it exists.

There was a legal challenge put forward by the Family Foundation of Kentucky, which claimed that the terminals were de factor slot machines, but a ruling by the Kentucky Court of Appeals allowed them to continue. Instant racing is found at places like Ellis Park and Kentucky Downs, although other locations like Keeneland Race Course oppose housing the machines.