Kentucky Gaming

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History of Gaming in Kentucky

If you are going to document the history of gaming in the state of Kentucky, it could only be historically accurate if you explore the collection of gambling clubs that were operational before the Great Depression and long afterward. Certainly casino gambling was not legal, but these gambling dens served customers virtually out in the open. The close proximity to Ohio was a contributing factor to these clubs springing up, and part of the influence that existed was, of course, organized crime that exerted control over much of the activity which took place in the northern part of the state, namely Newport, which is located right across the river from Cincinnati.

Among the establishments that were well-known were the Beverly Hills Club, the Flamingo, the Lookout House, the Yorkshire Club and the Primrose Club. As a rule, there were bootleggers involved in these clubs from the outset. One prime example was Peter Schmidt, who opened the Beverly Hills in 1934. But there was also opposition from mobsters out of Cleveland, and that is why the Beverly Hills was set on fire in the late 1930s, apparently by those who had interests in competing clubs. Schmidt, however, remained a prominent member of the Kentucky gambling "community," often cooperating with mobsters from Cleveland or New York, as one had to. He opened up numerous clubs like the Glenn Rendezvous and the Playtorium and continued to profit, until a reform-minded candidate, George Ratterman, who had survived an attempt to set him up with a call girl in Schmidt's place of business, led a campaign to shut the casinos down.

Of course, this was not before more colorful characters were able to get in on the act. Buck Brady, who had once run booze for George Remus, the legendary bootlegger, was part of this scene, gaining control of the Primrose Club in the mid-30s. Brady resisted attempts on the part of the Cleveland mob to infiltrate his business, even going so far as to shoot one of their operatives. But that act wasn't going to keep him alive much longer, and he quietly left the area right after the second world war. Another former Remus associate, Jimmy Brink, actually partnered up with the mob and operated the Lookout House very profitably for many years.

Gambling had always been a part of the racing scene in Kentucky, with tracks like Oakland and Woodlawn, and Churchill Downs, which opened way back in 1875. But believe it or not, at one time the track actually tried to distance itself from an image associated with gambling. But when pari-mutuel wagering began to take hold, gaining momentum in the 1920s, there was no looking back. Churchill Downs is iconic, and it hosts the most prestigious single horse race, the Kentucky Derby, as well as being an occasional home for the Breeders Cup. It is by no means the only race track in the state, as Kentucky Downs, Ellis Park and Keeneland have their seasons, and big events, as well.

Churchill Downs has established its own betting website, Twin Spires, in which customers can place wagers on the races. In this modern era, where other forms of gaming are available to pari-mutuel facilities, the concept of the "racino" has become a major topic of interest, and in order to offer protection for that interest, the state, led by Governor Steve Beshear, who ran on a platform of expanding gambling within the state, sought to stamp out online gambling operators by conducting a seizure of their domain names, on the basis that the companies in question were doing business with customers within his state.