Gov. Steve Beshear addresses a packed house at the Keeneland sale pavilion.

Gov. Steve Beshear addresses a packed house at the Keeneland sale pavilion.

Anne M. Eberhardt

Kentucky Rally: 'Revolution Starts Tonight'

The Kentucky horse industry is continuing its fight for racetrack gaming.

When he entered the Keeneland sale pavilion the evening of June 24, trainer William “Buff” Bradley was thinking about his options in the wake of the defeat of racetrack gaming legislation two days earlier.

“This is my home, and I really want to stay, but I’ve got to think about some things,” Bradley said. “It may be too late. I hear there are people planning to leave after the Churchill meet and go to Delaware Park.”

Two hours later, he hadn’t necessarily changed his mind, but his outlook had greatly improved. He was one of about 1,000 people that participated in a horse industry rally, the likes of which hadn’t been seen before in Kentucky, and perhaps anywhere.

“It gets you pumped up,” Bradley said. “I’m glad I came here tonight. They do know how much this means to us. I might just have to have a tentative plan for a year or so; I can do that if I have to. But if they’re going to stand up and fight, I want to fight, too.”

The rally, designed to tell the horse industry the fight for assistance in the form alternative gaming isn’t over, came together in about a day. Organizers said they were shocked at the standing-room-only turnout. There were farm owners and employees, racetrack executives, trainers, breeders, and even fans.

It turned into a raucous bipartisan political rally with more than 20 legislators who support the horse industry in attendance. Keeneland lobbyist Judy Taylor said she simply dropped off invitations at their offices, and they showed up in force only hours after a special session of the General Assembly had concluded.

The legislation to authorize video lottery terminals at the state’s racetracks died June 22 in a Republican-heavy Senate committee. Sen. Tom Buford, the only Republican that voted to send the measure to the Senate floor, received a standing ovation during the rally.

The bill had bipartisan support in the House, which it passed on a 52-45 vote. Legislators and racing industry officials said the measure had the votes—Republican and Democrat—in the Senate, but never had a chance to get there.

“This is not a partisan issue,” said Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, who attended the rally with his wife, Jane. “In the Senate, it’s not a partisan issue, but it takes on a partisan twinge. We won’t know (the outcome) because they were afraid to vote. I believe it would have passed the Kentucky Senate.

“There is one of two things you can do. You can change the senators’ minds, or you can change some of the senators. Let’s get this done.”

Former Kentucky governor Brereton Jones, chairman of the Kentucky Equine Education Project and owner of Airdrie Stud, likened Republican Senate President David Williams to a “third-world dictator.” Williams is largely blamed for blocking the racetrack VLT bill from a full Senate vote, and earlier in the day told the Louisville Courier-Journal the VLT issue is already dead for the 2010 session.

Others would disagree. Laughter turned to wild cheers when Jones said: “The only way to get rid of a dictator is with a revolution, and the revolution starts tonight. We are going to make this happen. It may take a little longer than we’d like, but we’re sticking together, and we’re going to get this done.”

The General Assembly convenes in January 2010 for its next regular session. Legislative elections will be held later next year. Still, it appears the racing industry plans to wield its influence in the coming months, because it’s likely the racetrack gaming bill will resurface, despite Williams' claims, given the fact it passed the House for the first time ever during the special session.

Democratic Sen. Ed Worley, who supported the bill, blasted the Senate as it wrapped up business during the special session. In a video shown during the rally, Worley said the Senate used a “smokescreen”—an alternative plan to generate purse money by taxing the lottery and pari-mutuel wagers—to blame failure of the bill on the governor.

The VLT bill, Worley said, was “killed and declared dead before it arrived. The majority of the members in the Senate would have liked to vote.”

During the rally, Worley said the sale of Thoroughbred horses in Kentucky’s number one cash crop, and the industry deserves legislative attention. “If they vote against the horse industry, you need to remember them on Election Day,” he said.

KEEP executive director Patrick Neely said each member of the Senate received about 5,000 e-mails over the weekend urging them to vote on the VLT bill. KEEP also collected about 12,000 signatures on a petition.

Neely said in the next few months, town hall meetings will be held around the state to lobby support for the gaming plan and the horse industry. Overall, he said the special session was a major success even though the bill failed to get a full Senate vote.

“They have heard our voice in Frankfort,” Neely said.

Many of the legislators on hand for the rally are Democrats.

Members of the House recognized from the floor were Rocky Adkins, Linda Belcher, Leslie Combs, Bob Damron, Kelly Flood, Reginald Meeks, David Osborne, Sannie Overly, Ruth Ann Palumbo, Carl Rollins, John Will Stacy, John Tilley, Robin Webb, and Susan Westrom.

Members of the Senate recognized from the floor were Walter Blevins, Tom Buford, Perry Clark, Denise Harper Angel, Gerald Neal, Joey Pendleton, Kathy Stine, Johnny Ray Turner, and Ed Worley.

Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo, who sponsored the gaming bill, was unable to attend, officials said.