They say that back in the 19th century, Owensboro was known up and down the rivers as a “sporting town.”

In other words, a place where games of chance could be found at any hour on any day.

But that had all changed by the mid-20th century.

The police had cracked down on the illegal gamb-

ling.

And about the only gambling around was bingo.

In the late 1980s, we got the Kentucky lottery.

And then, in 1993, when Indiana was beginning to license riverboat casinos, the Green family, which then owned Executive Inns in Owensboro and Evansville, announced plans to apply for one in either Evansville or Rockport.

A Rockport casino boat would cruise to Owensboro and bring people to town because Rockport didn’t have enough hotels.

But nothing ever came of that.

In 2002, John Bays, who owned the Executive Inn then, began lobbying the state to allow him to build a casino at the hotel.

He dreamed big, pushing unsuccessfully for the state to allow casino gaming, saying he would build a casino, a 20,000-seat arena, an indoor water park, a convention center and parking for 14,000 vehicles — a total of $200 million worth of construction — if he had a casino license.

Bays finally gave up in 2005 and sold the hotel.

Then in 2014, Ron Geary, who owned Ellis Park, said he wanted to build an off-track betting and simulcasting parlor with a restaurant downtown.

That plan had to be approved by Kentucky horse racing officials.

And it wasn’t, he said.

Geary also talked about the possibility of building a casino in Owensboro if race tracks were allowed to have casino licenses.

They haven’t been.

But now, Ellis Entertainment, the new owners of Ellis Park, are planning to construct a 60,000-square-foot entertainment venue in the Towne Square Mall area that will feature historical racing machines (similar to slots but legal), simulcast wagering and a sports-themed restaurant.

They’re talking about a $16.7 million project with 100 permanent jobs.

Will it happen this time?

I hope so, but we’ve seen these dreams go up in smoke a lot of times over the past 30 years.

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

(1) comment

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