A company owned by Churchill Downs Incorporated that develops historical horse racing games has plans to implement the gaming technology into electronic table games. Something that would give Kentuckians options along with Kentucky sportsbooks. However, based on the reaction of Kentucky officials, those games may not land in the Bluegrass State anytime soon.
Earlier this month, Exacta Systems announced it created a partnership with Interblock to produce an electronic roulette game using HHR technology. Historical horse racing has been around in the U.S. for a couple of decades. Machines using an HHR platform have the look and feel of a slot machine. However, when a player makes their bet, they’re actually wagering on the outcomes of several previously run races.
Interblock Global CEO John Connelly said in a statement that working with Exacta Systems aligns with the company’s goal of being a table game innovator. “Our partnership with Exacta creates a unique offering within the HHR sector, taking two innovative companies and combining our best practices to further expand the HHR sector by the end of this year,” he said.
This past week, Churchill Downs announced it completed its $250 million purchase of Exacta, which has machines operating in Kentucky, New Hampshire, Virginia, and Wyoming.
HHR Is Big Business In Kentucky
Since efforts to legalize casinos have fizzled in Kentucky, the state’s racetracks sought approval to operate HHR machines to help their live racing products more than a decade ago. Under state law, the machines are considered pari-mutuel wagering. Each of the nine tracks can host machines at their facilities, and each can also open a satellite facility that’s within 60 miles of the host track and not within 60 miles of another track.
Through June, there were 10 HHR establishments open in the state, and those venues had more than 6,900 machines. Additional facilities will be opening in the near future in Ashland, Louisville and Owensboro.
HHR is the dominant gaming option in Kentucky. In the fiscal year that ended in June, the tracks and satellites took in more than $8.2 billion in wagers, up more than 20% from the $6.81 billion wagered in the 2021-22 fiscal year. After taxes, the tracks reported adjusted revenues of $609.2 million last year, an increase of more than 24% from the 2021-22 total of $489.8 million.
By comparison, the state’s tracks reported an on-track handle of just $116.9 million for 302 race days between July 1, 2022, and June 30. That was also up from the $95.6 million bet at the tracks the year before. Kentucky horse industry leaders have credited HHR for allowing tracks to increase their purses, leading to more horses coming to the state and helped draw more betting traffic. HHR’s also made Kentucky more competitive with other racing states as a true year-round market.
Despite its booming business in Kentucky, officials are not exactly open to allowing HHR-powered table games to operate. Horse Racing Commission Chairman Jonathan Rabinowitz told reporters after the regulatory body’s meeting last Tuesday that he would not consider approving them.
Why Kentucky Tracks May Pursue HHR Table Games
While it seems like HHR table games may have long odds in Kentucky, there’s still a good chance they will be considered at some point. With brick-and-mortar sportsbooks set to open at seven tracks and several HHR satellites, track operators may look for amenities that are attractive to the sports betting crowd. Sports bettors aren’t typically drawn to slot-style games but are more likely to play table games in addition to using Kentucky betting apps. Having HHR-powered roulette might be a way to attract new bettors and keep them playing longer.
In addition, there’s this to consider: eight tracks and HHR satellites that are either open or under construction are close to casinos in Indiana, Ohio and West Virginia. While those out-of-state casinos feature live-dealer table games, if the tracks could offer an electronic version, they could potentially keep more bettors from crossing the state line.
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