Kentucky Sen. Damon Thayer

Kentucky Sen. Damon Thayer

Anne M. Eberhardt

Thayer Makes Case for Instant Racing Bill

Sen. Damon Thayer is trying to make a case for Instant Racing by statute.

Republican Kentucky Sen. Damon Thayer spent more than an hour March 18 in a GOP caucus in an attempt to make a case for Instant Racing via statutory approval.

The caucus meeting, called before the full Senate met, came a day after Thayer, who chairs the Senate Committee on State and Local Government, opted not to put revised Instant Racing legislation up for a vote. The key revision removed statutory approval for Instant Racing, leaving the decision to Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear and the Kentucky Horse Racing Comission.

Instant Racing machines are pari-mutuel in nature because they are based on the results of previously-run horse races, but closely resemble video lottery terminals. The Kentucky attorney general’s office issued an opinion that the machines are pari-mutuel and could be installed via changes in pari-mutuel statute.

Instant racing by statute sailed through the Senate Committee on State and Local Government March 10 on an 11-1 bipartisan vote. In a matter of days, however, Republican Sen. President David Williams, who initially supported it, said there was strong opposition; he then wanted the statutory approval removed from the bill.

“I did make a strong case (in caucus) for Instant Racing by statute,” Thayer said March 19, “but I’m scrambling to find enough votes to pass it. It’s very difficult when one week President Williams is supporting the bill and lobbying Senate members, and then less than a week later, he changes his mind.

“That’s a pretty challenging situation I find myself in. I’m drafting yet another amendment and have to decide very soon if there is a way forward with this. I know what I believe is right—passing Instant Racing by statute.”

Thayer acknowledged any measure probably would trigger a lawsuit, but he believes statutory approval is the soundest route.

Thayer said input from the racing industry, which supports giving Instant Racing a try, will lead to some changes in the bill, which originally started in the House of Representatives as advance deposit wagering tax legislation. The racing industry has weighed in on the ADW provisions and Instant Racing.

“I’ve incorporated some of the suggestions in a new amendment,” Thayer said.

There are no revenue projections for Instant Racing in Kentucky. In Arkansas at Oaklawn Park, gross revenue from the machines in 2009 was more than $240 million. Purses earned more than $3 million based on a 15% cut from an almost 9% takeout rate.

Officials speculated it’s possible major markets in Kentucky could do similar revenue figures, but they noted Kentucky tracks compete against full-scale casino gambling in Indiana, Illinois, and West Virginia; Oaklawn doesn’t have such competition within a one-hour drive.