Kentucky state senator Damon Thayer

Kentucky state senator Damon Thayer

Anne M. Eberhardt

Bill: Up to $6 Million for KY Racing

Legislation to aid the Kentucky racing industry could be pre-filed for 2009.

A Kentucky legislator plans to pre-file a bill for 2009 that would provide dedicated funding for the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority and create a new fund to supplement purses for all breeds at Kentucky racetracks.

Republican Sen. Damon Thayer, currently wrapping up a two-year state budget with other members of the General Assembly, said April 15 the measure would be similar to one he filed last year in that it would shift revenue generated by the pari-mutuel tax from the state general fund to the KHRA for operations. The 2007 version passed the Senate only.

Thayer said of the about $5 million a year generated by the pari-mutuel tax, 90% would go to the KHRA for operations, and 10% to what he calls the “Kentucky Stakes and Purse Development Fund.” Money in the fund would go to three breeds—Thoroughbreds (80%), Standardbreds (13%), and Quarter Horses (7%)—based on current splits for breed development programs in Kentucky.

Racetracks and breed associations would be able to apply to the KHRA for the funds, which can be used to bolster stakes or even overnight races depending on the needs of each breed and track. The bill, however, would require applicants to submit a marketing plan outlining how they plan to use the money and promote horse racing in the process.

Another $500,000-$600,000 would become available for the fund by shifting the tax on claimed horses, according to Thayer’s proposal.

Finally, the measure would offer Breeders’ Cup a two-day tax credit if for some reason it opts not to go to Santa Anita Park in 2009 and return to Churchill Downs. If Breeders’ Cup does not return to Kentucky next year, the two-day tax credit of roughly $750,000-$1 million would revert to the Kentucky Stakes and Purse Development Fund.

Thayer said his proposal has bipartisan support in that Democratic Sen. Ed Worley plans to co-sponsor it. The plan comes as Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear is calling for creation of task force to study long-term, stable funding for the KHRA.

“(This proposal) gives the horse racing authority a lot more money, and provides it with a reliable, statutory source of funding,” Thayer said.

Beshear on April 14 vetoed a budget line item that would have spared smaller racetracks in Kentucky from paying a daily live-racing assessment to the KHRA for operations. Thayer said supporters of the line item are hoping for an override.

If the KHRA were to get $4.5 million a year, the assessments ($3,500 per live racing day for Thoroughbreds and $1,750 for harness racing) wouldn’t be necessary, nor would the racetracks have to bear the cost of equine drug testing.

Thayer earlier said he didn't file the measure for the 2008 session because of an ongoing revenue crunch in Kentucky. He said it's premature to discuss whether the measure could come up in a special General Assembly session should one be called by Beshear this year.