Damon Thayer

Damon Thayer

Anne M. Eberhardt

KY Senator Suggests Instant Racing

Damon Thayer wrote a request to Attorney Gen. Jack Conway to look at Instant Racing.

Kentucky Sen. Damon Thayer, who sponsored the legislation that resulted in Kentucky’s Breeders’ Incentive Fund, has inquired about another method of garnering funds for the state’s Thoroughbred industry.

Thayer, who also owns his own communications and consulting firm, has requested Attorney General Jack Conway to explore whether Instant Racing machines at Kentucky track’s was viable and could generate the necessary revenue to aid the struggling sport.

Instant Racing is a virtual racing game which allows bettors to study basic handicapping information and wager from an archive of more than 50,000 previously run races on individual machines.

“I looked at the numbers from Instant Racing, looked at what other states did, and decided to see if (Instant Racing) is legal under existing pari-mutuel statutes in Kentucky,” said Thayer. “I’m obviously very cognizant and concerned about the downward pressure being placed on purses in Kentucky from slots-subsidized races in Indiana, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Perhaps Instant Racing is something that should be looked at as a way to compete and raise Kentucky purses to a competitive level again.”

Thayer said he began thinking about the possibility of bringing Instant Racing to Kentucky after observing the successful results from Instant Racing at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., which has used the machines since 2000.

In Thayer’s letter to Conway, he cited a 2007 Oaklawn report that claimed $17.7 million had been wagered each month through its Instant Racing system, and that the amount of wagering had nearly tripled from 2004-2006.

Instant Racing has also been brought up in the Ohio legislature, but Gov. Ted Strickland said he would veto any bill that would authorize the machines -- which are pari-mutuel in nature -- because the results are based on previously run races.

“Since (Instant Racing) is pari-mutuel, you’re not betting against the house like you do with a traditional casino or slot machine,” Thayer explained. “So that difference could be interpreted to mean Instant Racing could be permissible under existing Kentucky law. I don’t know if that’s the case, but that’s why I asked the opinion of the attorney general on it.

“We’ll see where it goes from there. Perhaps this is a way to make Kentucky’s purses competitive again without going through the more controversial, less politically palatable option of casinos at racetracks.”

Due to the weak economy and competition from neighboring states with higher purses boosted by alternative gaming, Kentucky’s Ellis Park and Kentucky Downs both slashed their race schedules for 2009. Ellis Park’s planned 48-day meet was cut back to 23 live racing days, while the all-turf meet at Kentucky Downs will consist of four days of racing instead of six.

“I think (Instant Racing) needs to be a part of the conversation about making Kentucky racing viable again and competitive again,” said Thayer. “I’m not at the point yet where I’m advocating Instant Racing, but I am advocating that it’s something that needs to be talked about. What if is already legal and racetracks could start installing these machines this year?

“Perhaps it’s just a matter of racetracks applying to the Racing Commission for a license (to install Instant Racing machines). Perhaps further legislation is needed. These are all questions that over time will be answered.”

Legislation to authorize video lottery terminals at racetracks didn’t make it to floor of the House of Representatives this winter, but many are hopeful the issue will be part of a special legislative session in Kentucky later this spring or summer.

Democratic Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, who made a public vote on casino gambling part of his campaign to win election in 2007, hasn’t committed to a special session and hasn’t publicly endorsed the racetrack VLT legislation.

Beshear did, however, tell the Blood-Horse during a March 31 question and answer session that he thought gaming was a “viable option to help the industry.

“Clearly, I have been an advocate of gaming for two reasons,” said Beshear. “Number one, it would help one of Kentucky’s signature industries retain its prominence and position; 2) It could provide needed revenues for areas such as education and health care at a time when we are searching for strategic ways that we can continue moving forward in those vital areas. I continue to support expanded gaming for those reasons.”