Ellis Park is the nation’s first penny-paying track

HENDERSON, Ky. — In a major victory for horse players, Ellis Park will this weekend become the first track in the nation to pay to the penny, rather than the traditional rounding to the nearest penny, on dollar winnings.

The result will be more money returned to bettors. The Kentucky General Assembly last spring passed a law requiring so-called “breakage” to be paid in pennies, with that provision going into effect with the Ellis Park Friday card.

The legislation was sponsored in the Kentucky House by Rep. Adam Koenig of Erlanger and Rep. Al Gentry of Louisville and spearheaded in the Kentucky Senate by Majority Leader Damon Thayer. The cause of the junkyard returning to punters has long been championed by Thoroughbred Idea Foundation executive director Patrick Cummings and TIF founder Craig Bernick, a prominent horse owner and president of Florida’s Glen Hill Farm. In Koenig, they found a legislator equally passionate about virtually eliminating breakage.

“This is a welcome and long-awaited change in pari-mutuel betting to pay punters their full, duly earned winnings,” Cummings said in a TIF statement. “Kentucky is leading the way, and if a horse gambler wants to take full advantage of a winning dividend, he should bet on races held in Kentucky.”

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Koenig will be at Ellis Park to witness the first time bettors will be paid by rounding down to the penny.

“I’m excited,” he said. “Most importantly, he takes care of the riders in a way no one has ever seen before. Either it’s going to become an industry-wide standard or it’s going to be a huge plus for Kentucky racing. You read stories about how big players get extra discounts. Well, now smaller players are going to get extra discounts.

Koenig says he plans to bet $2 to show on each horse in the first race on Friday.

“That way, I’ll cash three bills,” he said. “I think I’ll do it on my (online) account, so I can take a picture and have it forever.”

To show the difference that breakage makes, TIF provides this example: Previously, if the “unbroken” return of a show bet was $1.4854928, the return for each $1 unit was rounded up to $1.40. Where previously such a $2 bet would return $2.80, it would now pay $2.96 on a Kentucky race.

“We’ve reviewed and tested the penny break for a Friday departure and are ready to go,” Ellis Park general manager Jeff Inman said. “We are very happy that the Koenig representative is present to witness the start. We know veteran horse players will be thrilled with the change, and we’re curious how the casual bettor will react.

The virtual elimination of scrapping was part of HB 607 which also standardized the excise tax on every pari-mutuel bet placed in the state and also made claiming races eligible for purse supplements paid to registered Kentucky horses by through the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund.

In the past, Kentucky tracks and their riders split the on-track breakage, while off-track and online betting takers kept the money. The Thoroughbred Idea Foundation estimates that $35 million over the past five years has been raised and preserved as Kentucky Race Breakers.