—Ellis Park won't have its electronic Instant Racing machines in operation in time for thoroughbred racing's biggest day — the Kentucky Derby on May 5.

But Ellis owner Ron Geary said Friday that he expects the casino-style machines will be lit up in time for the track's July 4 celebration.

"Our new target is the week before July 4," which is the day Ellis will launch its 2012 live racing meeting, Geary said.

Ellis Park will feature 252 Instant Racing machines that will operate 12 to 15 hours a day, every day of the year except Christmas.

The track will be leasing $2.5 million of Instant Racing machines, which resemble casino slot machines and allow gamblers to place bets on previously run horse races. Winners receive payoffs by correctly selecting the first three finishers in order, the first three in any order, the top two finishers, the winner or any two of the top three finishers.

Ellis Park plans to invest approximately $3 million remodeling a portion of its existing clubhouse, installing heavy-duty air conditioners with smoke removal systems and training its staff, Geary said.

He said the track projects that it will add 60 to 70 full-time jobs.

Having seen their success at Arkansas' Oaklawn Park and at Kentucky Downs in Franklin, Ky., Geary is counting on Instant Racing to generate millions of dollars in extra revenue to erase operating losses and make Ellis' racing purses more competitive with racetracks in other states that operate full casinos.

Kentucky Downs in Sept. 1 became the first track in the state to run Instant Racing, operating 200 machines. From September through March, more than $67.8 million was wagered on Instant Racing at the turf track, the horse racing website bloodhorse.com reported last week, citing records filed with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.

Of that, just over $61 million was returned to bettors, while $4.7 million went to Kentucky Downs (including $667,258 that has been allocated to purses for Kentucky racing and $47,661 for the Breeders' Incentive Fund) while just over $1 million went to the state with more than half of going for equine purposes.

March was the best month so far for the game, with players there betting more than $15 million, up nearly 20 percent from February.

Instant Racing proved so popular at Kentucky Downs that the track in February won permission from the racing commission to add 75 more machines.

Geary expects the Instant Racing parlor at Ellis Park to be open in time for track's 29-day live racing meet, which begins July 4, then runs every Friday, Saturday and Sunday for nine weeks, concluding on Labor Day.

"We're very optimistic, based on Kentucky Downs and what Instant Racing has down at Oaklawn" for the machines to bolster racing purses at Ellis, attracting more horsemen and producing bigger fields of horses, which in turn will boost pari-mutuel wagering, he said.

This year — when Instant Racing will be generating revenue for only six months — Geary projects that purses will be increased 40 percent from a year ago.

"The second year, they will more than double from what it has been," he said.

The legality of Instant Racing in Kentucky remains under dispute, however.

The Family Trust Foundation of Kentucky, a conservative group that opposes expanded gambling, has appealed an earlier court ruling that the game is legal because it involves pari-mutuel wagering on horse races, which already is permitted in Kentucky. The Family Foundation insists that Instant Racing is casino gambling, which is prohibited in this state.

The Kentucky Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments on the matter April 25 in its Frankfort courtroom.

Kentucky Downs and Ellis Park have proceeded with Instant Racing on the basis of an attorney general's opinion, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission's passage of rules and regulations, and a Franklin Circuit Court ruling in December 2010 that instant racing is legal.

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