KEEP chairman Brereton Jones

KEEP chairman Brereton Jones

Anne M. Eberhardt

KEEP Chair: Racetrack VLTs 'Will Happen'

The chairman of KEEP expects the horse industry will get relief from the state.

The chairman of the Kentucky Equine Education Project said Feb. 18 he expects gaming-related legislation benefitting the Kentucky horse industry to pass—but he’s not sure when.

Thoroughbred owner and breeder Brereton Jones, a former Kentucky governor, made his comments on “At the Races with Steve Byk,” a SIRIUS Satellite Radio program that has examined the situation in Kentucky. The horse industry is currently lobbying for passage of legislation that would authorize video lottery terminals at racetracks in the state.

“This will happen,” Jones said, “but whether it happens immediately or in the next year or two remains to be seen.”

In 2008, KEEP supported a proposal by Gov. Steve Beshear to establish casinos, many of them at racetracks. Beshear made it part of his campaign platform in 2007.

The bill went nowhere in the General Assembly, and Beshear, now struggling with a growing budget deficit, backed away from pursuing gaming. This year, however, legislation offered by Democratic Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo has picked up more momentum.

Jones, echoing comments he made last year, said there was no organization, and the Beshear plan was introduced too late even though the governor indicated assisting the horse industry was a priority. So far this year, Beshear hasn’t said much about horse racing and breeding.

“That’s the kind of issue, if you run (for election) on it, you say it’s House Bill No. 1,” Jones said. “Hopefully, we can regain that momentum. The politicians have to know they are being held accountable for what they do. We fully intend to hold them accountable.”

There appears to be only a slim chance the racetrack VLT measure will come up for a vote in the House of Representatives before the current General Assembly session ends in late March. Industry officials, however, are hopeful it’s included in what could be an inevitable special session this year to reform Kentucky’s tax system.

Jones and Gene McLean, a lobbyist in Kentucky, questioned why the horse industry struggles to have an impact with legislators.

Jones said if Toyota indicated it had to close and eliminate 8,900 jobs in the state, there would be immediate action. The horse industry, with about 100,000 jobs, is taken for granted, he said.

McLean noted the state is considering a multimillion-dollar tax break for Kentucky Speedway to help it land a NASCAR race; Beshear took part in a press conference about it Feb. 17. Yet, McLean said, the horse racing and breeding industry—critical to Kentucky’s economy—doesn’t get the same attention.