Commentary: Insert Coin Here
by Evan Hammonds
Date Posted: 3/4/2008 11:06:40 AM
Last Updated: 3/11/2008 9:47:22 AM

Evan Hammonds: Executive Editor
Photo: File Photo

Finally, a bill that would allow the people of the Commonwealth of Kentucky to vote on a constitutional amendment to allow casino gaming has moved out of committee and will be presented soon to the state’s House of Representatives in Frankfort.

Championed through various legislative sessions by the Kentucky Equine Education Project and other horsemen’s groups, this bill will surely provide for casinos to be operated at the state’s racetracks, right?

Well, not exactly.

The bill, as it left the house committee Feb. 28, calls for up to nine casinos in Kentucky, of which as many as five “may or may not” be at horse racetracks.

A casino bill in Kentucky that will allow nine casinos, none of which are guaranteed to be tied to one of the state’s racetracks? Somewhere along the way, the reins slipped through the fingers of the horse industry on the most important issue to face Kentucky horsemen in a generation.

However, all is not lost. For once, the governor has our back. While Gov. Steve Beshear has said the bill doesn’t expressly provide for casinos at tracks, he has gone on record as saying if enabling legislation that will implement casinos doesn’t include them, then he’ll veto it.

“He’s the ultimate backstop on the deal,” one industry insider said.

Short-term hopes for the casino bill can be based on others’ misfortune—the dim outlook of the state’s finances in the coming year. Lawmakers will be navigating their way through the state budget process in the coming weeks and the give-and-take between recession-like revenues and obligations and priorities will create some pressure. Raising taxes or, into today’s new legis-speak, creating “user fees” is not a popular choice.

The bill has a long way to go, and along the way there will be many opportunities to clarify the tracks and horsemen’s positions in the legislation. Expect a long and winding road.

Horsemen and track operators remain skeptical, but there are a few things we know for sure: a bill of this nature has never even gotten this far, and the thought of the tracks being left out of the equation is unfathomable.

Those that have followed the casino situation in Kentucky have said this year’s chances aren’t necessarily a longshot, but they aren’t exactly 2-5, either.

One said: “We have legislative leadership saying the horse industry needs to be part of the solution; the top person in the House and other members and the governor are trying to get votes to support it. I think that gives it a shot.”

We have no other choice but to go to the windows.

LADIES SING THE BLUES

While attempting to jazz up the two-day World Championships program, it’s likely Breeders’ Cup officials were less than pleased with the initial response to their “Ladies’ Day” announcement for their Friday program. It has drawn the ire of many racing fans, and quite frankly can be viewed as backward and degrading to one of racing’s key demographics: women.

Attendance, handle, and “buzz” on the inaugural two-day program last October at Monmouth was sluggish out of the gate, but lousy weather may have put a damper on Day One. Putting together a package of top-flight racing is a solid idea—an all-turf card would put too many eggs in one basket—and one thought to speed things up could be to play off Calder’s “Summit of Speed” and run all of the Breeders’ Cup races at a mile or less on opening day. That might put the Friday card on the fast track.



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