On September 15, 2017, Churchill Downs, Inc. and Keeneland Association, Inc. announced a partnership for the purpose of opening two new racetracks in Kentucky.  One would be located in Corbin, in the southeast, and the other would be in Oak Grove, in the southwest.  Each track would have a live race meet and historical wagering machines.

The rationale is unclear.  The overwhelming trend in horse racing, and retailing per se, is away from brick and mortar and toward online. Moreover, the geographical sites selected are poor and isolated areas.

Corbin is in two Appalachia counties, Knox and Whitely, with sparse populations.  Knox County has almost 32,000 residents with a per capita income of about $11,000 and Whitely County has 36,100 residents with per-capita income of approximately $13,000.  In Knox County, 35% of the families have incomes below the poverty line and the figure is 26% in Whitely County.

Corbin is 86 miles from Knoxville, Tennessee, 89 miles from Lexington, Kentucky, and 163 miles from Louisville, Kentucky.  These are the nearest population centers.

Oak Grove is in Christian County, Kentucky, about 20 miles away from the Army base Fort Campbell.  The county’s population is 73,000 and the per-capita income is $14,600.  Fifteen percent of the families in Christian County have incomes below the poverty line.

Oak Grove is 73 miles from Nashville, Tennessee, 83 miles from Evansville, Indiana, and 170 miles to Louisville, Kentucky.  Kentucky Downs, located in Franklin Kentucky, is only 57 miles away and Ellis Park in Henderson, Kentucky is 88 miles distant.  Ellis Park is convenient to Evansville patrons.

While Oak Grove appears to be better able to support a racetrack than Corbin, neither location has anything approaching adequate population and buying power to do so.

It may be that the intent is to open TV production studios, so to speak, to beam racing signals to bettors elsewhere.  Yet there already are ample racetracks competing for bettors’ attention and dollars.

A more plausible motive for opening the racetracks is to establish locations for installing video lottery terminals should Kentucky legalize them to help close the state’s yawning budget deficit and address its huge unfunded pension liabilities.

Why enough people from population centers would patronize the racetracks when casino gaming, including table games, is easily accessible in Indiana, Ohio, and Tennessee (on the Cherokee reservation) is a puzzling question.

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