Breaking: Ellis Park bringing entertainment venue to Owensboro; will be racing and gaming destination in Towne Square Mall

October 26, 2021 | 4:30 pm

Updated October 26, 2021 | 5:59 pm

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Ellis Entertainment has announced plans to open a new historical racing machine (“HRM”) entertainment venue. Ellis Entertainment Owensboro will include a new 60,000-square-foot racing and gaming destination located in the Towne Square Mall development.

The Ellis Park Owensboro venue plans to initially open with a wide selection of HRMs, a simulcast betting and viewing area, and a new race and sports themed restaurant. 

Additionally, the new facility will feature a stadium-style race and sports themed bar and grill that will offer a unique experience in Western Kentucky. 

Construction on the new facility is planned to begin in early 2022 with an anticipated opening date in early 2023.

The expansion is a big turnaround from a future Ellis Park officials thought they could have faced earlier this year. The Kentucky Supreme Court previously ruled that Historical Horse Racing games were illegal.

According to WFIE, HHR machines supplied 70% of the purse money for races at Ellis Park, and those purses had increased exponentially each year.

The Kentucky state legislature stepped in and legalized HHR games after long debates during the General Assembly in February.

It cleared the Senate with a 22-15 vote and the House with a 55-38. Senator Matt Castlen and State Rep. DJ Johnson voted against the bill, while State Reps. Jim Gooch and Suzanne Miles voted in favor of it.

According to the Courier Journal’s coverage of the bill’s passage at the time, “Some critics of SB 120 say it is unconstitutional and HHR machines could be legalized only through a constitutional amendment, while others say the legislation should have raised the tax rate on the machines to a rate comparable to slot machines in surrounding states.”

This isn’t the first time a massive casino-type venue has been proposed in Owensboro, as nearly two decades ago developer John Bays hoped to bring an entertainment complex to the riverfront.

Bays bought the Executive Inn Rivermont in downtown Owensboro in 1999.

“Bays made substantial interior and exterior improvements, and his commitment and determination made him popular,” according to an article from the Public Life Foundation of Owensboro. “At the same time, it was clear that he was positioning the hotel to add a riverboat or land-based casino if the state legislature authorized gambling as a consequence of a local referendum.”

In 2002, Bays pitched plans for a $200 million casino-arena-indoor waterpark complex he wanted to build next to the hotel in downtown Owensboro, including a a $50 million casino — but casinos are illegal in Kentucky.

According to a 2002 article from Wave3, “A plan to allow slot machines only at Kentucky’s horse tracks died during the 2002 legislative session. Bays’ plan would allow casinos to be built away from race tracks but would earmark part of the profits for the horse industry.”

Nothing of the sort has been close to being developed in Owensboro since. The passage of SB 120 paved the way for Ellis Park to finally bring such a venue.

Jeffery Inman, General Manager of Ellis Entertainment, said “in addition to this being a major addition to the Owensboro community, we believe the new venue will create $6 million to $8 million in additional purse money per year at Ellis Park, which will help improve the quality of racing for the summertime leg of the Kentucky Thoroughbred circuit.”

The approximately $20 million investment will create an additional 200 new jobs in the Owensboro community, including more than 100 new construction jobs and more than 100 permanent jobs once operations commence. Hiring for the new full-time and part-time positions will begin late next year.

“Owensboro is excited to welcome Ellis Entertainment to the community and to help kick start the redevelopment of the Towne Square Mall area,” said Owensboro Mayor Tom Watson. “We are very excited about the new jobs the project will bring with a unique entertainment destination to the market.”

The mall is owned and operated by a group of local investors, TSM Holdings LLC. Gulfstream Commercial Services LLC brokered the deal for TSM Holdings.

October 26, 2021 | 4:30 pm

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