With a fall awareness campaign and the 2006 General Assembly session looming, the board of directors of the Kentucky Equine Education Project voted Sept. 7 on its ultimate position on expanded gambling in the state.
The KEEP board, assembled at the United States Equestrian Federation office at the Kentucky Horse Park, went into closed session with lobbyists to tackle the matter, said by some to be the most important issue facing the horse industry in Kentucky. Attempts by the racing industry to win approval for slot machines or full casino-style gambling have repeatedly failed since the mid-1990s.
There was no definitive word when the position of KEEP, a grassroots organization that includes racetracks, breeders, and horsemen as members, would be released.
"The board voted on a course of action," KEEP executive director Jim Navolio said the afternoon of Sept. 7. "But we're not ready to discuss the course of action because we have many levels of constituency. We've got to consult with them, and our intention is we will have specific comments late next week."
During the open session of the board meeting, representatives of Louisville-based Red7e, the marketing firm hired by KEEP, said plans call for a six-week campaign beginning in early November to promote the value of horses to the state. The campaign would involve television, radio, and print advertising.
KEEP currently has about $120,000 in its political action committee fund, with a goal of having about $200,000 by the end of October. Meetings are planned with lobbyists to determine how that money should be spent in advance of next year's legislative session.
Among the gaming-related issues that have lingered are whether it should be limited to racetracks, and whether it should be pursued via legislative action or through voters via a constitutional amendment. There have been differing opinions on both issues among legislators and KEEP board members.
KEEP has a goal of attaining 10,000 members by the end of this year; it now has more than 7,600, according to board member Jack Smith. Democratic Sen. David Boswell, a western Kentucky lawmaker who has advocated a non-racetrack casino for Owensboro, attended a recent KEEP "day at the races" at Ellis Park, Smith said.
In other business, USEF chief executive officer John Long, a member of the KEEP board, brought the organization up to speed on horse-rescue efforts in Louisiana and Mississippi in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Long said the USEF, through its Web site, raised more than $45,000 in a matter of days, and would focus on making feed, supplies, and transportation available to the area.
"It's a real mess as anyone can imagine," Long said. "We've been attempting to help as best we can to coordinate rescue efforts."
After Long's comments, the KEEP board agreed to donate $10,000 to the cause.
KEEP also presented its first "Volunteer of the Year" award to Rachel Fowler, a student in the University of Louisville Equine Business Program. Fowler, a Louisville native who also attended Murray State University in western Kentucky, said she has visited more than 25 equine events in the state including horse shows, camps, and race meets.