Owensboro venue will be 'good economic boon'

·4 min read

Oct. 28—Ellis Entertainment's plans to construct a 60,000-square-foot entertainment venue in the Towne Square Mall area that will feature historical racing machines, simulcast wagering and a sports-themed restaurant "will be a good economic boon to Frederica Street," Ed Ray, chief operating officer for Gulfstream Development, said Wednesday.

Gulfstream operates Towne Square Mall.

Jeffery Inman, general manager of Ellis Entertainment LLC, said details are still being worked out and he felt safer saying the Towne Square Mall area, rather than in the mall itself.

He said Ellis Park reached out to gaming financial analysts in March to determine whether the track should invest more money in the Henderson track immediately or create an extension in Owensboro.

The analysts said Owensboro would be a much better use of the track's money, Inman said.

The local venue is being called Ellis Park Owensboro, but the name is likely to change, he said.

Skip Sayre, another spokesman for Ellis, said, "We've been working with local officials in Owensboro on this. The success of this venue will help Ellis Park, and it's a great opportunity for Owensboro. Owensboro is a great community with the convention center and all the hotels."

He said he understood that the venue would be in one of the mall's anchor stores.

Ray said all comments would have to come from Ellis.

Inman said more information should be coming in a couple of weeks.

But Ray said the mall "has got to be reinvented."

James Gillaspie, who owns two stores — Sports Country and Sports Country T-shirt Factory — in the mall, couldn't agree more.

"It's great not to have to stress about the future," he said. "It feels like things are going right now. We're hoping this will attract a lot of people to the mall and excite more people to move their businesses into the mall."

Gillaspie said he's hoping for more restaurants and entertainment venues.

$16.7 millionEllis Entertainment's plans to spend $16.7 million on its proposed venue that "has tons of potential," Ray said.

Ellis is owned by Laguna Development Corporation of Albuquerque, New Mexico, which was formed in 1998 for the Pueblo of Laguna — a federally recognized tribe of Native American Pueblo people.

It owns the Dancing Eagle Casino and the Route 66 Casino in New Mexico.

Inman said Ellis Park Owensboro would have windows where bets can be placed on the live racing being simulcast from tracks around the country or people could use machines to place their bets.

Hours haven't been set yet, he said.

But Inman said he expects the venue to be open 24 hours a day on weekends and probably from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. on weekdays.

He said the project will create 100 construction jobs and 100 full-time permanent jobs along with around 40 part-time jobs.

Sayre said construction is scheduled to start in the first quarter of 2022, and the venue should open either at the end of 2022 or in the first quarter of 2023.

He said the venue will include 600 historic racing machines.

In historical race betting, gamblers use a terminal much like a slot machine to place bets on replays of past races that are randomized and presented to the bettor.

No identities of horses or jockeys are revealed, nor the location of the historical race, so people can't look up the outcome.

Sayre said the company owns several restaurants in New Mexico.

He said he's not sure when hiring will begin.

But it's expected to be in late 2022.

Sports book?In 2020 and 2021, the Kentucky General Assembly had bills to allow sports books, where people could bet on virtually all sports.

But the bills died without coming to a vote both years.

Asked if Ellis Entertainment was interested in using its Owensboro venue as a sports book if they become legal in the future, Sayre said, "Yes."

Inman said that the legislature may require the sports books to be associated with race tracks.

If that happens, the Owensboro venue would qualify, he said.

Laguna bought Ellis Park for $11 million in 2019 and promised at that time to spend $100 million on track improvements, including a new hotel.

The Owensboro venue is the fifth off-track license that the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has awarded.

Kentucky Downs, Churchill Downs, Turfway Park and a new harness track planned for the Corbin area also have been approved for satellite gambling facilities, in addition to the licenses already awarded at all of the existing tracks.

This isn't the first time Ellis Park has proposed an Owensboro extension.

In 2016, Ron Geary, who owned Ellis Park at the time, said he wanted to build an off-track betting and simulcasting parlor with a restaurant downtown.

But nothing ever happened.

Keith Lawrence, 270-691-7301, klawrence@messenger-inquirer.com

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