HENDERSON, Ky. (WEHT) – Ellis park is sold for the second time in a year.
A New Mexico-based business pays $11 million for the Henderson County racetrack.
Saratoga Casino and Hospitality in New York bought Ellis last July. They bought the track from Ron Geary, who acquired the track in 2006.
Now, Ellis Park will enter a new era under Laguna Development Corporation’s Ellis Entertainment, LLC.
Brad: Joining us now on the phone is Skip Sayre, Chief of Sales and Marketing with Laguna Development Corporation based in New Mexico. Mr. Sayre, good evening and thanks for joining us tonight. The release from Laguna today said the $55 million will be invested at the Henderson track. Can you break down what that money will go to?
Skip Sayre: It’ll go to a variety of things, first and foremost, maintenance and upgrades to the current facility. We know, and you know, that it’s a tired facility in many ways and basic clean up and painting and refurbishment and new signage and those kinds of things are all the things we’ll do immediately. And carpeting, those kinds of things. We will get into a cleanup and expansion of the HHR facility. We’re looking at the restaurants, the bars – really the entire facility – just a general upgrade as well as the racetrack. Upgrading the racetrack, making sure it is the way it needs to be – looking at the back side and cleaning that up and making upgrades there. So, it’s really a totality of upgrades really and maintenance that we’ll be doing.
Shelley Kirk: Mr. Sayre you mentioned the expanding of the HHR facility, can you tell us more about that?
Skip Sayre: Sure, there are about 130 HHR machines there at Ellis Park, we plan on expanding that to 300 machines in the next six months or so. And then ultimately, we received permission from the racing commission to add up to 1,200 machines. So, we’ve seen the HHR marketing in Kentucky, grow significantly especially over the last couple of years. We think that’s a great way to generate revenue and it generates revenue for the racing industry as well, it allows us to do the things to make sure Ellis Park remains the iconic racetracks in KY.
Brad Byrd: Skip, there has been speculation about adding night racing to Ellis and with lighting. And the possibility of a hotel. Is there anything you can tell us about that?
Skip Sayre: On the night racing that is definitely on our Phase II plans – we’re looking into that for next year. We think that makes sense for a lot of reasons. Certainly, for the comfort of our patrons. But also, for the horses and the folks that are operating the races. If you look at some of our plans, which we will release in more details, but it does include night racing and of course the lighting that goes along with that.
Brad Byrd: And what about a possible hotel?
Skip Sayre: The hotel would be in Phase III. We are going to initially invest, as we said today, about $55 million in upgrading and expanding the facility. At the point that, that begins to make sense, then we get that set in as far as our investment is concerned, then we would look at the $40 or $45 million that it would take to add on the hotel and other amenities.
Shelley Kirk: So, it sounds like you’re in this for the long haul. We’ve seen Ellis sold several times over recent years, but it seems like you’re really in this for the long haul.
Skip Sayre: Ellis Entertainment is a subsidiary of Laguna Development Corporation – we have been working on business development to expand our assets for the last several years, this is certainly a major accomplishment for us. We’re a company that invests in our communities where we operate our business in and the community, we live in. And we look forward to being a very positive contributor to the Kentucky/Indiana region there. We are a company that makes commitments to organizations and groups in the community. You’ll see us at the Chambers of Commerce and Economic Development meetings – we’ve done a lot with education and athletics. And we plan to bring those company philosophies to KY as well.
Brad Byrd: Skip, of course, there’s a land-based casino right across the river in Evansville with Tropicana Evansville. The competition for the gambling dollar continues to intensify, how will Ellis Park evolve with that dynamic?
Skip Sayre: Well, it’s one of those things we look closely at as we were performing our due diligence from this acquisition. Here in Albuquerque it’s about the same population size as the Henderson/Evansville market. There are five major gaming properties and they all do pretty well. We think in a two-facility market like that one, with our expertise in gaming and hospitality in hotels and restaurants, and entertainment, and we can compete and do really well in that market with just one other competitor. So, it’s an exceptional way to grow revenue.
Shelley Kirk: Alright, Mr. Skip Sayre, thanks for taking the time to speak to us. Laguna Development Corporation. We look forward to hearing more details about the sale of Ellis Park. Thank you so much for your time.
HENDERSON COUNTY, Ky. (WEHT) – The sale of Ellis Park to Laguna Development Corporation has been approved unanimously by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.
According to Matt Hegarty with the Daily Racing Form, the approval includes authorization to operate up to 1,200 Historical Horse Racing machines, up from the current allocation of 300.
Laguna bought Ellis Park for $11 million. Laguna will begin maintenance and facility upgrades as part of its renovation and expansion plan.
As part of its application, Laguna pledged to invest about $60 million in improvements over the next two years, which would expand the casino facility, but also to widen the turf course and install lights for night racing.
The KHRC has approved the sale of Ellis Park to Laguna Development Corporation, an investment company owned by the New Mexico-based Pueblo of Laguna tribe. Approval included authorization to operate up to 1,200 HHR machines, up from current allocation of 300. — Matt Hegarty (@DRFHegarty) June 18, 2019
As part of its application, Laguna pledged approximately $60M in capital improvements over next two years, mostly to expand casino facility, but also to widen turf course and install lights for night racing. — Matt Hegarty (@DRFHegarty) June 18, 2019
The sale is expected to be completed within the next several days.
You can read the full document about the sale of Ellis Park and the company’s future plans by clicking here.
Two weeks ago, sources confirmed Saratoga has been negotiating a sale with Laguna Development Corporation from Albuquerque, New Mexico.
This is the second time Ellis Park has changed ownership in under a year.
Last July, Saratoga Casino and Hospitality Group bought Ellis Park from Ron Geary, the former owner of the Evansville Icemen.
Ellis was born in 1922 as Dade Park. It was named after a famous director of the Green River Jockey Club.
According to the track’s history books, Dade Park faced financial trouble early on. The jockey club went bankrupt and the track was bought by James Ellis for $35,000.
Years passed until Roger and Lila Kumar bought the track in 1985 and expanded the grandstands.
They would sell 4 years later to Racing Corporations of America, which in turn sold to Churchill Downs in 1998.
Eventually, Geary bought Ellis Park in 2006. He would have the track until 2018 when he sold to Saratoga.
(This story was originally published on June 18, 2019)