In the latest volley in the debate over legalized alternative gaming at Kentucky racetracks, Kentucky State Senate President David Williams issued the following response to a recent commentary by Lane's End Farm general manager and prominent Republican Bill Farish:
I never cease to be amazed by the manner in which slot interests and their spokesmen such as Bill Farish continue to mislead Kentuckians. The proposed expansion of gambling in Kentucky is bad economic policy for the state and for the horse industry. Those tied to the slots may do their best to raise the specter of false divisions and false hope, but the reality of the situation is unchanged.
Fact #1: Expanded gambling will flood Kentucky with funds that will skew our body politic.
Bill Farish failed to mention his family’s financial affiliation with the tracks as well as to the 527 "issues" group formed by the tracks and their supporters to circumvent campaign finance laws in order to intimidate legislators to support slots. During the recent special election, his pro-slots 527 ran negative ads that never even once mentioned slots. State after state with gambling in the mix has been rife with stories of political corruption.
Fact #2: Once slots arrive, horse-owners and trainers will get the short end of the stick.
In Florida, horsemen have complained that their promised doubling of purses has never materialized. In Ohio, under the Governor’s executive orders, owners were left to their own devices to negotiate purses with the slots people. In West Virginia, purse money was shifted back to state government to make up for shortfalls. And in Kentucky, have we forgotten the bitter battle waged by Churchill Downs attempting to force our horsemen to accept a smaller slice of the revenue from Internet bets? Or the fact that Churchill Downs pays to transport horses to its own Arlington Park in Chicago in direct competition with Ellis Park? Once slots come in the picture, players will thrill to the speed of the machine and ignore the speed of our ponies.
Fact #3: Slots will not "save" Kentucky’s budget.
Gambling is an unstable source of revenue. In spite of gambling, Illinois raised taxes. Hardly a session has passed without Indiana’s casinos and racinos asking for yet another tax break. And gambling revenues are in a decline nationwide sending governments addicted to them scurrying for additional funds.
Fact #4: The horse business is beset with problems endemic to the industry itself
The horse industry acknowledges that it breeds too many horses and runs too many races in a national economy that is fragile. Racing fans are growing older. The industry’s weak marketing has done little to help. Very few people these days have the discretionary cash to plunk down a cool million for a horse, or even tens of thousands of dollars.
During the special session in June, Senate Democrats and Republicans unanimously passed legislation that would have nearly doubled funding for the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund and actually doubled funding for the Kentucky Breeders’ Incentive Fund without slots. Our plan would have kept the KEEP scholarship program whole and not hurt charitable gaming. It would not have used any general fund dollars.
The House plan would have forked over more than 50% of the revenue to the tracks and massively undervalued the license fees the tracks would have had to pay. All businesses are suffering in this economy, yet the tracks insist that they and they alone deserve special treatment.
When the House introduced its gambling bill during the 2008 session, committee members were mysteriously replaced in order to ensure passage. The 2009 version was heard in a committee that didn’t even allow the opposition to testify. Finally, with the addition of over $1 billion worth of projects the bill barely passed during the special session. It was a far cry from the fair hearing the bill received in the Senate committee where both sides were allowed to air their views.
The House plan relied on Kentuckians gambling a whopping $11.9 billion – a figure that represents five times more than what is currently wagered at the tracks, at out-of-state casinos, and through charitable gaming. Where are these players going to come from? With gambling already in many of our sister states, slots will only cannibalize our own people -- our most vulnerable sacrificed for what a horse industry insider, Ray Paulick, calls a "band-aid" solution.
We need to explore all the ways Kentucky horsemen can control their own future because as Churchill Downs trainer Michael Lauer recently noted, "…once the tracks get the slots, the horsemen become secondary citizens." I respectfully would amend that quote to include all Kentuckians.
Senate President David L. Williams