As lawmakers are convening in a special session to discuss Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear’s proposal to to operate video lottery terminals at the state’s racetracks, several groups have come forward to state their varying opinions while the matter is still on the table.
The following letter was delivered to members of the Kentucky General Assembly June 16 from the Jockeys' Guild to formally express its support of expanded gaming:
Dear Sir or Madame:
As the representative organization for the Jockeys nationwide and an active supporter of the Thoroughbred racing and breeding industry, the Jockeys’ Guild urges Kentucky legislators to support expanded gaming to benefit Kentucky’s racing and breeding industry. We request your support for legislation to allow video lottery terminals at Kentucky racetracks during the current special session.
Kentucky remains one of only a handful of states in which current law prohibits racetracks from installing slot machines at racetracks and is adjacent to states that have gaming. Neighboring Indiana has allowed multiple casinos to be built along the border it shares with Kentucky, three of which are in close proximity to Kentucky racetracks.
As a consequence, Kentucky racing has seen a serious decline in the number of horses racing in the state, and gambling money is flowing from Kentucky into other states. The Kentucky breeding industry, the backbone of Thoroughbred racing internationally, cannot afford a collapse of the state’s racing industry. Revenue is being lost and jobs are at stake.
Churchill Downs racing officials were forced to omit an entire racing card from its weekly program due to lack of entries. Other tracks in the state such as Ellis Park in Henderson and Turfway Park in Florence are on the verge of collapse. Ron Geary, owner of Ellis Park, stated that unless expanded gaming legislation is passed, Ellis Park will be forced to shut down permanently.
For many jockeys who call Kentucky home, the closure of Ellis Park and the decreased racing dates proposed by Turfway Park for its fall and winter meeting would have a direct effect on their ability to compete on the Kentucky racing circuit year-round.
Our Kentucky-based Guild members offer the following comments in support of VLT legislation in their own words:
“Churchill Downs and Keeneland are two of the top tracks in the country, but we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of Kentucky Downs, Ellis Park and Turfway Park. Together, these tracks provide a year-round racing circuit that keeps horses in Kentucky. Without access to racing, horses and the people that depend on this circuit for their livelihood will have no choice but to go where they can make a living. We need to make sure Kentucky’s Thoroughbred industry stays ahead of the curve.” -- Jon Court
“I moved two weeks ago from Erlanger, Ky. to Greenfield, Ind. I used to look forward to the Keeneland and Churchill meets. Now I look forward to the Indiana Downs and Hoosier Park meets. The purses are much better and I still get to ride for the same people. Everyone from Kentucky is coming here because the money is better.” – Orlando Mojica
“I’ve called Kentucky home since 1995 and I say now is the time to act. I think people just assume since we are the home of the Kentucky Derby we are safe, but the mobility of this industry leaves Kentucky in a very dangerous position if we fail to keep pace with the other racetracks." – Calvin Borel
“Kentucky’s Thoroughbreds are second to none. However, with other states using expanded gaming to lure horses and farms away, Kentucky could lose a significant advantage. Once it’s gone, it would be nearly impossible to bring back. Kentucky needs to do something to help keep its racing on top.” – Julien Leparoux
“Every state around us is seeing its racing improve because of expanded gambling. The list of owners, trainers, and breeders that are leaving Kentucky for other states is growing. Kentucky needs to enable its tracks to compete or Kentucky will no longer be known as the horse capital of the world. I love it here. This needs to happen.” – Shaun Bridgmohan
“I moved here from Louisiana for the opportunity to ride better horses. Now those horses are leaving for states with better purses. We have to do something so the tracks here can compete and Kentucky racing can continue to attract the best horses and the best horsemen. I have made my home here and love Kentucky; I want Kentucky to remain on top.” -- Jamie Theriot
Beyond the racetrack, the budget deficits in the state of Kentucky have forced cuts in many social programs throughout the state. One rider in particular has first-hand knowledge of the hardships posed by cuts in these programs. Robby Albarado, one of Kentucky's most notable and established jockeys, founded the Robby Albarado Foundation three years ago with the intention of reaching out to the underprivileged in the Louisville area.
"The reduced spending in education and social services we have seen recently has severely undermined the opportunities made available for young people to break the cycle of poverty. I fear that unless we come up with a solution to the budget deficits we are currently facing, the problems I see on an everyday basis will worsen. Expanded gaming will not only help the horsemen and racetracks and provide jobs in the Louisville area, but it will also fund education programs and other services that are essential to ensuring that those who live below the poverty line are given every opportunity to rise above it." -- Robby Albarado
Thanks you for your consideration of this important matter.
Terence J. Meyocks (national manager)
Jeff Johnston (regional manager)
Robby Albarado (board member)
Jon Court (board member)