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Two new sportsbooks ready to open in Northern Kentucky: Here's what to expect

Turfway Park, Newport Racing & Gaming open Sept. 7
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Posted at 10:59 AM, Sep 06, 2023

FLORENCE, Ky. — Turfway Park Racing & Gaming will join an exclusive club Thursday when it opens one of nine retail sportsbooks in Kentucky, the 37th state to legalize wagers on sporting events.

The opening promises to be grand, with two separate “first bet” ceremonies planned for Kentucky Lt. Governor Jacqueline Coleman and Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer. But the business prospects for brick-and-mortar sportsbooks are surprisingly sparce.

The seven retail sportsbooks now operating in Greater Cincinnati combined for net revenue of only $426,915 in July, according to state records. Three of them made less than $3,500 after paying off bets and adjusting for promotional spending. And that doesn’t include Rising Star Casino, which is licensed to operate a retail sportsbook but has chosen not to since early 2022.

“We’ve been waiting for this for a long time. We’re happy it’s finally here,” said Michael Taylor, president of Turfway Park and Newport Racing & Gaming, which also opens Thursday. “We think (sports betting) will help us introduce Turfway Park to a guest that may not have a reason to otherwise visit. And they’ll see that the property has a tremendous amount of entertainment offerings.”

Kentucky’s sports betting market is expected to generate about $2 billion in annual wagers with online and retail sportsbooks tied to the state’s horse racing tracks. Turfway and its Newport annex are owned by Louisville-based Churchill Downs Inc., which will also debut retail sportsbooks Thursday at Ellis Park in Henderson, Oak Grove near Fort Campbell and two Louisville properties: Churchill Downs and Derby City Gaming.

At three of its retail properties, Churchill Downs has partnered with online sportsbooks: FanDuel at Turfway Park, Fanatics at Oak Grove and Barstool Sports at Ellis Park. It also partnered with UK-based Kambi Group to operate its retail sportsbook kiosks.

Betting apps generate more than 90% of sports bets in most states. So, partnering with an online operator is the best way to make money from sports betting. But online operators aren’t required to disclose how much of their betting revenue is shared with local partners in each state.

Taylor declined to reveal how much revenue Turfway will get from the Fanduel deal. But Belterra Park reported taxable revenue of $14 million in July from its FanDuel partnership in Ohio, while Indiana’s Blue Chip Casino reported $8.3 million from a similar FanDuel arrangement.

“We already have partnerships in place across our Churchill Downs properties with Fanduel from a horse race betting perspective. So, we’re familiar with them. They’re the logical partner for us here at Turfway Park,” Taylor said.

Turfway has 15 sports betting-kiosks lined up in two sections of its gaming floor, while its Bourbon & Brew restaurant is equipped with a 300-square-foot TV, 16 additional screens and a ticker tape display for game scores and updated betting lines. Newport has 10 betting kiosks and 20 large TVs at its Monmouth Street location.

The kiosks will accept bets of up to $3,000, but Taylor said larger bets are possible at the cashier window.

“I think people will be crazy over it, loving it,” said Dee Bell, a Middletown resident who typically plays slot machines at Turfway Park but expects to sample sports betting on a future visit. “I will probably start out and take it slow because I’m unfamiliar but willing. You know, I’m going to check it out.”

Taylor said that will be the true value of retail sportsbook: Helping customers get more entertainment from their Turfway Park visit.

“You know the in-game element of sports betting will be here for the first time,” Taylor said. “So, at halftime you think Joe Burrow’s going to mount a comeback when the Bengals are down, you can walk over here to one of our kiosks and place the bet and enjoy the second half.”

Turfway is planning a watch party for the Bengals’ first game against Cleveland Sunday. It will give away a jersey per quarter, while inviting sports bettors to sample the property’s other attractions.

“Obviousy, live racing starts up on November 29th. We’re excited about that,” Taylor said. “We have sold out, headline entertainment all through September in the Turfway Entertainment Center. And of course, we have 800 Las Vegas style gaming machines behind Bourbon & Brew.”

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Turfway Park's Bourbon & Brew restaurant will host watch parties and sports bettors starting Sept. 7, 2023.
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Churchill Downs bought Turfway in 2019. Since then, it's spent millions turning the race track into a state-of-the-art experience that includes horse racing and around 800 betting machines and games. The new facility wil celebrate its grand opening on Sept. 1.