The Herald Bulletin

Evening Update

Local Business

January 13, 2013

Horsemen thrilled by planned changes to 2 tracks

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s two horse racing tracks could see revenue increase under a plan that would give each its own type of racing.

Hoosier Park owner Centaur Holdings is in the process of acquiring the Indiana Grand Casino and Downs in Shelbyville. The Indiana Horse Racing Commission has approved the plan, and the Indiana Gaming Commission has granted conditional approval pending financing and further regulatory review.

Officials at Indianapolis-based Centaur hope to shift all thoroughbred racing to Indiana Downs and all standardbred harness racing to Hoosier Park in Anderson this spring if regulators grant final approval by March 1, the Indianapolis Business Journal reported.

Indiana horsemen say they’re excited about the strategy.

“This is one of the greatest opportunities to enhance racing in Indiana since the slots were passed,” thoroughbred breeder Jim Hartman said. “It really is that big a deal.”

Indiana Downs and Hoosier Park both opened casinos in 2008 and 2009 after receiving legislative approval to do so in 2007. A portion of the tax revenue generated by the slots helps support the racehorse breeding industry.

But wagering on Indiana races has fallen steadily since 2005, and horsemen hope Centaur will help attract more bettors and improve the tracks and the overall quality of racing.

“It’s all about bringing the bettor in and having him gamble on our product,” said Jeff Edwards, an Indianapolis-area standardbred breeder.

Centaur plans major improvements at both casinos and racetracks, including a 1,500-person music venue in Anderson, Vice President and General Counsel John Keeler said. Centaur also is considering an entertainment complex and additional slot machines for the Shelbyville casino and has proposed building 300 more stalls there.

Keeler declined to elaborate on the plans but noted that Centaur spent $800,000 last year on a new scoreboard at Hoosier Park and invested $3.5 million on a new Winner’s Circle off-track betting parlor in downtown Indianapolis at a time when OTBs are closing across the country.

Statewide, the total amount wagered on horse racing fell to $125 million in 2011, the lowest level since 1995, according to the Indiana Horse Racing Commission’s most recent annual report. Betting on horse racing peaked in 2005 at $190 million.

Most of the gambling happens remotely. Live audiences wagered just under $8 million between the two tracks in 2011.

William Diener, chairman of the horse racing commission, said he hopes Centaur can stabilize the wagering trend by getting more out-of-state locations to pick up Indiana’s simulcast.

He also thinks Indiana Downs could attract enough out-of-state horses and raise its entry fees high enough that events like the Indiana Derby would earn a top national rating.

“While Indiana Downs would never be a Churchill Downs, it would still be an important and well-thought-of regional horse track,” he said.

 

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