When Republican Jimmy Higdon soundly defeated Democrat Jodie Haydon in the special Kentucky Senate election Dec. 8, it signaled challenging times ahead for the Kentucky horse industry's efforts to obtain passage of slots legislation.
But industry figures like David Switzer and Bill Farish aren’t giving up hope yet.
Switzer, who is executive director of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association/Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders’ Association, indicated that he and other officials on the forefront of the gaming issue would work to develop a plan of action before the November 2010 election. “We hate to have to wait that long, but I’m sure there’s a game plan that’s going to be developed at some point,” he said.
“I think there’s hope, and we do have some ideas, some of which I can’t talk about right now,” added Farish, who is chairman of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's Political Action Committee. “We’re going to try and continue to elect candidates in 2010 that support our industry.”
The Higdon-Haydon election was generally viewed as the latest step in a push by Democrats to weaken the GOP's majority control of the Senate, with a Haydon election seen as improving the odds of passing legislation to legalize slots at the state's horse tracks.
“I would applaud the GOP for the type of campaign they ran,” said Switzer. “They ran it not on the gaming issue, but about (the health care issues surrounding) President Obama and (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi. They drew them into the race. Of course the president’s ratings are not very good; he has about a 38% approval rating right now.
“In the district that was voting, it’s a heavily registered Democrat district, but for the past four presidential elections, they have supported the GOP candidate. So I think that was more of the uphill battle that we had, and maybe didn’t expect it at the time.”
Farish agreed with Switzer that the election result was much more about the current national political scene than a referendum on the horse industry and gaming issue. He noted that the recent constitutional amendments proposed by Kentucky Senate President David Williams and Sen. Damon Thayer might have also had an effect on the voting.
While Williams indicated he would propose a constitutional amendment during the 2010 General Assembly session that would ban the expansion of gambling in Kentucky without a vote of the people, Thayer offered an amendment proposing a referendum on video lottery terminals in seven counties with live racing. Both said they were in favor of letting voters decide the matter.
“I think it’s pretty well known that the amendment that Damon Thayer is sponsoring is pretty much an impossible thing to ever see happen,” said Farish. “While it provided some false cover, it had an effect on the election, because they could both say they were for the horse racing business and that we should let the people decide.”
A June special legislative session called by Gpv. Steve Beshear failed to produce passage of the racetrack VLT bill he helped draft. The bill passed the Democratic-controlled House by just two votes but died in the GOP-held Senate budget committee.