Betting using instant wagering machines, which resemble and operate similar to slot machines, has exploded across Kentucky and thousands more machines will come online in the near future. Yet the state taxes them at very low rates compared to slot machines in other states and even compared to live racing within Kentucky at comparable levels of betting. Especially in the face of more state budget cuts next session unless new revenue is generated, taxing these machines appropriately is an action the 2020 General Assembly should take.
Introduction to Kentucky Slot Machine Casino Gambling in 2020. Kentucky slot machine casino gambling does not include games of chance, which are strictly illegal. Instead, Kentucky has competition-based electronic gaming machines at four out of its five pari-mutuel wagering racetracks.
What Kind Of Slot Machines Are At Kentucky Downs Selections
There’s a pretty big range in the betting activity at the four facilities. Kentucky Downs, the leader, generates more than three times the daily wagering (handle) for each machine under its. The best online slots are the source of excitement and enjoyment for players. When it comes to free slots, the size and frequency A List Of Slot Machines At Kentucky Downs In Kentucky of payouts don’t matter because you can’t really win anything when playing in demo mode.
Lost revenue is substantial
More On Budget & Tax: Any Action on Proliferating Slot Machines Must Raise Artificially Low Tax Rate
In May, we wrote about the missed opportunities and lost revenues because of Kentucky’s failure to uniformly tax betting that is already happening in our state. At that time, we estimated the potential new revenues from taxing all betting at a uniform 3.5% of average daily handle (the average amount bet daily), and depositing all the resulting new revenues in the General Fund, at over $40 million.
Since then, instant racing machine use has continued to grow rapidly. Based on new information, we now estimate the potential new revenues at over $60 million annually, excluding the expansion of instant racing machines described below. If the tax rate is increased and the planned expansions occur, potential new revenues over the next two years could increase to as much as $80 –$100 million, providing significant support to much-needed investments in the commonwealth.
Casinos are here—in the form of “instant racing” slot machine parlors
Between 2018 and 2019, the amount bet through instant racing machines increased by 80%, or just over $900 million, primarily due to the addition of 900 new machines at Derby City Gaming in Louisville in September of 2018. Existing instant racing venues also experienced double–digit growth in the amount bet and gross commission per day, per machine.
Moving forward, there will be a more than tripling of the number of instant racing machines operating in the state. On top of the 2,800 machines now in use, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has approved the addition of over 7,000 new machines that will likely become operational over the next 24 months, including the following:
- Oak Grove, a new facility currently under construction in Christian County, which is jointly operated by Churchill Downs and Keeneland. It includes an instant gaming parlor, hotel, equine center and Standardbred track. Oak Grove began offering live betting on Standardbred races in October of 2019, and plans to open its instant gaming facility in June of 2020 with 1,200 instant racing machines.
- Kentucky Downs, located in Simpson County, which was recently purchased by new owners from Nevada. The facility is expanding with an anticipated completion date of September 2020 for the first phase, which will increase the number of instant racing machines at the location from 753 to 1,200.
- Ellis Park, located in Henderson County, which was recently purchased for the second time in less than a year by Ellis Entertainment, a subsidiary of Laguna Development Corporation, based in New Mexico. In June 2019, the track was approved to increase the number of instant racing machines from 179 to 1,200 as part of a renovation and expansion.
- Churchill Downs announced in October of 2019 a significant renovation project that includes a hotel and an instant racing parlor with 900 machines at its flagship track facility. The projected completion date is late 2021. (It should be noted that Churchill has received approval for a total of 3,000 machines that can be deployed at Derby City or at the new on-track facility. Derby City currently has 1,000 machines, so a total of 2,000 additional machines can be deployed by Churchill at any time).
- Churchill Downs purchased Turfway Park, located in Boone County in October 2019. Turfway is the only thoroughbred track in Kentucky that currently does not have instant racing machines. As part of the approval process, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission approved up to 2,500 instant racing machines, which will be part of a major renovation that is expected to be completed in late 2021.
Kentucky’s tax rates on slots are extremely low
Kentucky’s tax rate on instant racing is very low compared to the rate imposed on live racing in the state at tracks with comparable average daily handles. Instant racing is currently taxed at just 1.5% of the average daily handle, compared to a rate of 3.5% imposed against betting at tracks with an average daily handle of over $1.2 million (2 of the 4 instant racing facilities currently operating have an average daily handle of over $1.2 million, with Keeneland/Red Mile likely to hit that level in 2020).
Kentucky’s tax on instant racing slot machines is also low compared to how other states tax slots. Most states impose gambling taxes based on “gross revenues,” which are generally defined as the amount that remains after paying winning bets. Our surrounding states impose taxes on gross revenues from slot machines at rates ranging from 26% in Missouri to 53.5% in West Virginia. In comparison, Kentucky’s effective tax rate on instant racing, calculated on the same base used by other states, is just 18%. But that number overstates what Kentucky collects because most of the tax receipts are required by statute to be distributed back to the industry. For example, in 2019, 60% of the taxes collected were distributed to purse support funds, backside improvement funds for race tracks and other industry-related endeavors. The effective tax rate based on revenues deposited in the General Fund is even lower at just 8%.
Given the significant growth that has already occurred, the planned expansions that are currently underway, and current tax rates that are well below industry averages, and which primarily benefit the horse industry, there is significant room to generate additional revenues while still providing strong support for the industry. Taxing these rapidly proliferating casino-style slot machines and investing the revenues in the commonwealth is an opportunity the 2020 Kentucky General Assembly should not miss.
Note: The legality of instant racing machines remains at issue. A lawsuit challenging whether bets made through instant racing machines constitute pari-mutuel wagering, the only form of betting that is legal in Kentucky, other than the lottery, is currently before the Kentucky Supreme Court on appeal from a 2018 ruling of the Franklin Circuit Court which found instant racing bets to be pari-mutuel. The court is expected to hear oral arguments and to rule on the case in early 2020.
Introduction to Kentucky Slot Machine Casino Gambling in 2020
Kentucky slot machine casino gambling does not include games of chance, which are strictly illegal. Instead, Kentucky has competition-based electronic gaming machines at four out of its five pari-mutuel wagering racetracks.
Theoretical payout limits are not available but monthly return statistics are available for electronic gaming machines.
This post continues my weekly State-By-State Slot Machine Casino Gambling Series, an online resource dedicated to guiding slot machine casino gambler to success. Now in its third year, each weekly post reviews slots gambling in a single U.S. state, territory, or federal district.
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Relevant Legal Statutes on Gambling in Kentucky*
The minimum legal gambling age in Kentucky depends upon the gambling activity:
- Land-Based Casinos: Not available
- Poker Rooms: Not available
- Bingo: 18
- Lottery: 18
- Pari-Mutuel Wagering: 18
Kentucky’s interpretation of legal gambling requires the competitor’s level of skill “must sufficiently govern the results.”
Therefore, competition-based games are legal as well as pari-mutuel wagering. Traditional slots are illegal, including those referred to as Class III, Vegas-style, and games-of-chance slot machines.
Kentucky has competition-based electronic games available in a few of their pari-mutuel facilities. These skill-based games are anonymously-based historical race results.
What Kind Of Slot Machines Are At Kentucky Downs Racetrack
Historically, Kentucky has had a fascinating relationship with gambling. While casino gambling was never legal, gambling dens were prevalent before the Great Depression of 1929. To this day, the open display of illegal gambling from that time in American history continues to negatively affect the perception of gaming in Kentucky.
If you’re ever in Newport, directly across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, consider walking the Newport Gangster Tour.
*The purpose of this section is to inform the public of state gambling laws and how the laws might apply to various forms of gaming. It is not legal advice.
Slot Machine Private Ownership in Kentucky
In Kentucky, it is legal to own a slot machine privately.
Gaming Control Board in Kentucky
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) regulates skill-based games at pari-mutual racetracks in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
These devices are Historic Horse Racing (HHR) electronic gaming machines. The KHRC reports Kentucky offers 2,981 HHR machines.
Casinos in Kentucky
There are five pari-mutuel racetracks in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Of these, only four sites offer skill-based HHR electronic gaming machines.
The largest casino in Kentucky is Derby City Gaming with 1,000 HHR gaming machines.
The second-largest casino is Red Mile Gaming & Racing, an HHR parlor in partnership with Keeneland Race Course, with 938 gaming machines.
Commercial Casinos in Kentucky
The four out of five of Kentucky’s pari-mutuel racetracks with skill-based HHR electronic gaming machines are:
- Derby City Gaming in Louisville located 74 miles west of Lexington on the Indiana border.
- Ellis Park Racing and Gaming in Henderson located 105 miles northwest of Bowling Green.
- Kentucky Downs Gaming in Franklin located 29 miles south of Bowling Green.
- Red Mile Gaming & Racing in Lexington.
Tribal Casinos in Kentucky
The Commonwealth of Kentucky has no federally-recognized American Indian tribes and, therefore, no tribal casinos.
Other Gambling Establishments
As an alternative to enjoying Kentucky slot machine casino gambling, consider exploring casino options in a nearby state. Bordering Kentucky is:
- North: Indiana and Ohio Slots
- East: West Virginia Slots
- Southeast: Virginia Slots
- South: Tennessee Slots
- West: Missouri Slots
Each link above will take you to my blog for that neighboring U.S. state to Kentucky.
Our Kentucky Slots Facebook Group
Are you interested in sharing and learning with other slots enthusiasts in Kentucky? If so, join our new Kentucky slots community on Facebook. All you’ll need is a Facebook profile to join this closed Facebook Group freely.
There, you’ll be able to privately share your slots experiences as well as chat with players about slots gambling in Kentucky. Join us!
Payout Returns in Kentucky
The Commonwealth of Kentucky does not offer any theoretical payout limits for their competition-based HHR gaming machines.
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission offers statistics for HHR gaming under Quick Links entitled Wagering on Historical Horse Races. Its December 2019 report indirectly offers actual return statistics including comparisons to past actuals.
To calculate a player’s win percentage from the report, divide Less: Return to Public by Total Handle. For December 2019, the monthly Player’s Win% for HHR machines were:
- State-wide: 91.5%
- Derby City: 90.9%
- Ellis Park: 93.9%
- Keeneland/Red Mile: 91.3%
- Kentucky Downs: 92.0%
From this December 2019 report, Ellis Park had the highest player win% at nearly 94% while Derby City had the lowest at nearly 91%.
Summary of Kentucky Slot Machine Casino Gambling in 2020
Kentucky slot machine casino gambling exists as competition-based, games-of-skill Historical Horse Racing (HHR) electronic gaming machines instead of games-of-chance slot machines.
No minimum or maximum theoretical payout limits have been set. Monthly return statistics are publicly available for each pari-mutuel racetrack with HHR games.
Annual Progress in Kentucky Slot Machine Casino Gambling
In the last year, Kentucky increased its HHR machines by 9% to 2,981 devices. However, the average daily handle for HHRs increased by 46%. For 2020 so far, it’s an amazing 59% increase compared to 2019.
What Kind Of Slot Machines Are At Kentucky Downs Handicappers
Other State-By-State Articles from Professor Slots
What Kind Of Slot Machines Are At Kentucky Downs Race Track
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Have fun, be safe, and make good choices!
By Jon H. Friedl, Jr. Ph.D., President
Jon Friedl, LLC