Kentucky Casinos & Racetracks

Written by: Cliff Spiller, Online Casino and Game Expert
Kentucky Casinos & Gambling
  • Horseracing (1783), Lottery (1988), Historical Racing (2010)
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  • Kentucky does not have a smoking ban
  • Off-track betting

Kentucky is considered the home of horse racing in the U.S. The Kentucky Derby, one of the best-known horse races in the world, is hosted at Churchill Downs in the state. Kentucky was home to the first known horse race in the country in 1783. The state has always accepted that its residents and tourists visit Bluegrass Country to take in the races and wager a few dollars.

While gambling on horses has always been embraced, it has not been quick to expand into Kentucky casinos. There is a state lottery in Kentucky. Instant racing, which are slot machines that display winning symbols based on past races, started appearing at racetracks earlier this decade. Kentucky racetracks may also offer off-track betting. Charities can offer games of chance with limited prizes and a number of events.

Paying Gambling Taxes in Kentucky

OnlineUnitedStatesCasinos has gathered everything you need to know about paying taxes on your gambling winnings straight from a Certified Public Accountant. Find out how you can report your gambling income to the IRS with our in-depth Gambling Taxes Guide. Learn which forms you have to fill out, how to report your winnings, as well as deduct losses.

Types of Kentucky Online Gambling

Horse Betting icon

The only form of legal Kentucky online gambling is off-track betting on horses. These wagers may be placed on websites and apps belonging to companies like TVGTwinspires, and BetAmerica. TwinSpires is based in Kentucky. It is owned by Churchill Downs.

Daily fantasy sites claim legality under Kentucky’s skill gaming laws. While the state attorney general and its legislature have not addressed daily fantasy sports, some sour gamblers have filed lawsuits against the companies in an attempt to recover losses through qui tam laws. These cases are still in the court system.

Online poker, casino, and sports betting sites are not legal in Kentucky. The state has filed its own qui tam lawsuits to recover losses for the state’s residents. One judgment against PokerStars compelled the site to pay Kentucky $870 million. That case is under appeal. The state also filed a lawsuit in an attempt to seize 141 domain names from gambling sites.

Types of Live Kentucky Gambling

Popular games iconPopular Games
  • Slots: No
  • Blackjack: No
  • Poker: No
  • Craps/Roulette: No
  • Horses: Yes
  • Lottery: Yes

There are three types of live Kentucky gambling available to residents. A state lottery sells scratch-off and lotto tickets. This includes interstate drawings. Popular games include Lucky for Life, Pick 3, Pick 4, 5 Card Cash, Powerball, and Mega Millions.

There are six Kentucky racetracks. All offer horse tracks. Greyhound racing is not legal in Kentucky. All six tracks offer off-track betting on horses.

Kentucky Downs, Ellis Park, and Red Mile offer a controversial form of gambling that is working its way through the court system. These two tracks offer instant racing machines. These devices are programmed with thousands of past horse races. Players put cash into the machine and make a wager. The machine pulls one of these historical races and displays the reels on the device to match a payout similar to what the event would have paid. These are described as historical racing machines. Some consider them to be slot machines because that is exactly how they look and feel. The only difference is how the position of the reels is determined.

There are currently no Kentucky casinos operating at the moment. There is legislation that racetracks are trying to pass so that they can legally offer more popular electronic casino games, like electronic blackjack and roulette. We may see the racetracks and Kentucky casinos legislation combine and form “racinos” that are already popular in other states.

Kentucky gambling laws

Kentucky gambling laws define gambling as,

“staking or risking something of value on the outcome of a contest, game, gaming scheme, or gaming device which is based upon an element of chance, in accord with an agreement or understanding that someone will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome.”

It only exempts the state lottery, horse racing, and arguably, instant racing machines. Charities may operate bingo games and raffles.

Promoting gambling is a Class A misdemeanor or Class D felony, depending on the charges. The minimum gambling age in Kentucky is 18 years for lottery, racing, and instant racing bettors.

Where to Gamble in Kentucky

There are more than 1,000 lottery retailers in Kentucky. There are also dozens of charitable organizations that offer bingo and similar games to raise funds for nonprofit operations.

Outside of these options, there are only six Kentucky racetracks to gamble at. You might consider these racetracks to be Kentucky casinos, as they already have permission to offer racing machines, which are very similar to slot machines. This may be the start of new Kentucky gambling legislation.

You can look for the specific racetrack you want to wager at on our Kentucky casinos map and guide located above.

Churchill Downs – LouisvilleNo Instant Racing®700 Central
Ellis Park Race Course – Henderson170 Instant Racing® Machines3300
Keeneland – LexingtonNo Instant Racing®4201 Versailles
Kentucky Downs – Franklin500 Instant Racing® Machines5629 Nashville
The Red Mile – Lexington900 Instant Racing® Machines1200 Red Mile
Turfway Park – FlorenceNo Instant Racing®7500 Turfway

History of Kentucky Gambling

Kentucky racetrack history

Horse racing dates back to 1783 in Kentucky. That is nine years before it became a state. The first organized racing venue was created in Louisville. It was called Elm Tree Gardens. Racing spread to Lexington in 1787 where horses competed in The Commons. Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, opened in 1883.

Kentucky did not regulate horse racing like it does today in its early years. It was simply impossible to control pari-mutuel pools and organize the tracks and horses centuries ago. It took until the early 1900’s for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to be created. Tracks have come and gone over the years. There are five in operation today. This makes Kentucky one of the most thriving states when it comes to horseracing.

The first legal lottery in Kentucky was held in 1792. It occurred in an attempt to fundraise for a church in Lexington. The Kentucky Lottery that exists today was created through a November 1988 constitutional referendum. The first ticket was sold in April 1989. The Kentucky Lottery sells scratch-off and lotto tickets.

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission modified its regulations to permit instant racing machines in 2010. These games mimic slot machines. The devices display slot symbols in a pattern to show the payout of a horse race based in the past. The exact race is never known. The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that the racing commission had the authority to legalize these games. Anti-gambling groups are still fighting instant racing in the courts. Kentucky Downs, Ellis Park, and Red Mile offer instant racing, and can be considered to be the only Kentucky casinos operating today.

Kentucky has been the home of two disputes with offshore online gambling sites. In 2008, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear’s office initiated a lawsuit in an attempt to seize 141 domain names related to gambling. Major sites were included in the list. Big names like PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, Absolute Poker, DoylesRoom and Cake Poker were among them. The case dragged out until 2014 when a state appeals court essentially quashed it. This case was the beginning of offshore gaming sites moving to domains that do not use the .com extension. Kentucky received a small settlement related to Black Friday due to this case before it ultimately failed.

PokerStars Debacle

Kentucky is also the venue where PokerStars was sued for $290 million for accepting players in the state. Government officials alleged that PokerStars operated illegally and should be compelled to pay the state for its residents’ gambling losses under qui tam laws. The alleged events occurred from 2006 to 2011.

These loss recovery laws permit anybody to recover illegal gambling losses if the loser does not act within six months. A lower court awarded the $290 million as well as treble damages, making the total judgment $870 million. The case is currently under appeal

PokerStars was owned by Rational Group at the time the lawsuit is based. It has since been acquired by Amaya Gaming. The new owners of PokerStars have vowed to fight the case or pursue the former owners if it ultimately loses the legal battle.

Kentucky Casinos & Gambling FAQ

Here are the most common questions about gambling in Kentucky.

Is horse racing legal in Kentucky?

Yes. Kentucky is considered the home of the horse racing industry in the country.

Is off-track betting legal in Kentucky?

Yes. There are six race books in Kentucky.

Is online betting legal in Kentucky?

The only form of online betting legal in Kentucky is off-track horse racing.

Is greyhound racing legal in Kentucky?

No, only horse racing.

Is smoking permitted in Kentucky race books and instant racing casinos?

Yes, there is no smoking ban in Kentucky.

Are casinos legal in Kentucky?

No, the closest thing to casinos in the state is instant racing machines. There are casinos in West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.

What is the minimum gambling age in Kentucky?

The minimum Kentucky gambling age is 18 years for all legal forms of gambling, including lottery and racing bets.

Does Kentucky have a state lottery?

Yes, the Kentucky Lottery sells scratch-off and lotto tickets.

Does the Kentucky Lottery sell tickets over the Internet?

Lottery sales are not permitted over the Internet.

Are online poker, casino or sports betting sites legal in Kentucky?

None of these types of websites are licensed to operate in Kentucky.

Does PokerStars owe Kentucky $870 million?

There is currently a court battle over alleged illegal online gambling where a lower court ruled PokerStars owes Kentucky $870 million. It is currently under appeal.

Cliff Spiller

Cliff Spiller Online Casino and Game Expert

Cliff Spiller is a global casino industry specialist who writes relatable content for beginners and experts. He's written gambling articles and online casino reviews at OUSC for over 15 years.

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