KY Lawmakers Warming to Racetrack Slots Vote?

There could be movement regarding racetrack gaming in Kentucky in 2011.

Despite the fact Republicans gained two seats in the Kentucky Senate, where gaming legislation has repeatedly died, one lawmaker indicated legislation authorizing a constitutional amendment on racetrack video lottery terminals could be favorably received during the 2011 General Assembly.

Meanwhile, the Kentucky Equine Education Project said elected officials are acknowledging the horse industry’s need for assistance, and that its grassroots efforts are making a difference.

It appeared that would be the case for Instant Racing machines earlier this year, but the Senate balked. That measure, however, lacked support because of questions over its legality and continued resistance to what some Republicans called an expansion of gambling.

Republican Sen. Damon Thayer said Nov. 5 if the Democrat-led House of Representatives was to approve a constitutional amendment on racetrack gaming—the measure would need 60 votes—it could pass the Senate in 2011. If the measure did pass, it wouldn’t be on the ballot until 2012, he said.

Next year marks a gubernatorial election in Kentucky, with Democrat Steve Beshear seeking re-election. On the Republican side, Senate President David Williams is running for governor. It remains to be seen whether talk of assistance for horse racing and breeding is substantive or politically driven.

Thayer currently chairs the Senate Committee on State and Local Government, which would have to pass the constitutional amendment. The same committee deep-sixed Instant Racing legislation this year.

“Everybody knows my position on a constitutional amendment,” said Thayer, who supports a vote by Kentucky residents on expanded gambling but opposes gaming by statute. “I think we may be able to pull the (23) votes together for it to pass in the Senate. The horse industry needs to formally decide not to pursue slots via statutory approval and in 2011 or 2012 back a constitutional amendment.”

The industry, led by the KEEP, did so several years ago but the measure failed to win legislative support because of a debate over non-track casinos. The horse industry then backed a proposal from Beshear for approval of racetrack VLTs by statute.

“We are very pleased that a significant shift has taken place among elected officials as it relates to our industry and expanded gaming,” KEEP executive director Patrick Neely said Nov. 6. “Our goal remains putting Kentucky’s racing and breeding industries on a level competitive playing field, and we will be in Frankfort this upcoming session in pursuit of that goal.”

Thayer claims KEEP has caused “ill will” in the General Assembly, but others say that’s not the case. They point to a gradual shift by some legislators to support a constitutional amendment; a few years ago that wasn’t the case.

Horse industry officials believe their efforts are paying off after years and years of sending a message that competition from other states is damaging Kentucky’s horse industry.

Thayer said he met with the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association board of directors Nov. 4 to discuss various issues including tax breaks for the horse industry, funding for the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund and Breeders’ Incentive Fund, other regulatory changes, and expanded gambling.

When asked if the items would be put into one piece of legislation in 2011, Thayer said: “We had a very good open dialogue with the KTA board, but it’s way too soon to tell. We’re letting the dust settle after the (Nov. 2) election.”