A Kentucky casino proposal continues to sit on Capitol Hill in Frankfort, as a bill for a constitutional amendment failed to pass out of committee Feb. 26.
An overflow of horse industry members packed into the Kentucky state capitol Feb. 26 to show their support and hear whether the proposed amendment would finally advance to the House floor.
While the amendment, which sets aside five licenses that may be offered to racetracks, was adopted by the Legislators on the House Elections, Constitutional Amendments, and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee, the legislation failed to pass on a 3-5 vote. The amendment was proposed by Democratic Reps. Rob Wilkey and Larry Clark.
Three members of the committee passed on the issue, which allows them to bring up the issue at a later date.
Earlier in the meeting, another amendment, which called for nine casino licenses, five of which may or may not be awarded to racetracks, was considered. Proposed by Democratic Rep. Joni Jenkins, who chairs a legislative committee studying expanded gambling, and House Speaker Jodi Richards, the amendment was not adopted.
Gov. Steve Beshear, whose original casino bill proposal called for seven racetrack casinos and five non-track gaming halls, strongly urged House members to pass the first mentioned amendment in a statement following the committee hearing.
“The entire leadership of the House of Representatives has on numerous occasions publicly and privately committed to me to work in a unified manner in passing a constitutional amendment allowing the issue of limited expanded gaming to be placed on the ballot," he said.
"Today’s actions, as well as inactions evidenced in the Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee, very clearly demonstrate that House leadership remains deeply divided. I publicly call on them to get their act together quickly. Only with their unified support will this amendment stand a chance of passage.”
Several Thoroughbred operations were represented at the committee hearing, including Lane's End, Summerwind, WinStar, and Coolmore Stud.
Craig Bandoroff of Denali Stud was among three industry members that testified in support of the casino legislation, as well as a bill that would eliminate the 6% sales tax on horse supplies.
Bandoroff characterized himself not as a "rich horse person from Central Kentucky," but as a "first generation horseman" who had succeeded through "hard work, good luck, and the grace of God."
Bandoroff, who boards more than 250 horses at his Paris-based farm, pointed out statistics of the economical impact the horse industry in Kentucky.
"Please understand the direct correlation between the health of the breeding industry, and the health of the racing industry, measured by purses," he said. "Strong purses create strong racing, which creates a strong breeding industry. We have serious competition from other states, and the health of our industry is in jeopardy."
Bandoroff said an expanded gaming bill that does not guarantee a number of casinos to be located at racetracks further threatens the industry, as it creates additional competition from free standing facilities.
"This whole argument doesn't affect me in many ways, though," Bandoroff admitted. "At my age, and at the stage of my career, with the potential value of my land, I could sell it to developers to build houses and strip malls, and go somewhere else. But I love Kentucky. It's my adopted home, and it's my family's home. If you continue on this course, not only will you lose your signature industry, you will lose the economic engine pulling a very long train."
After the committee hearing, horse industry members filed into a separate room in the Capitol Annex, where representatives from the Kentucky Equine Education Project and Horsemen's Benevolent Protective Association explained how they should effectively advocate their position on the bill to local legislators and senators.
A lengthy horse trailer caravan also looped several times around the capitol following the hearing to create a visual symbol of horse industry members in support of the casino bill.
Wilkey indicated the committee would meet again next week and in the meantime, members would continue to debate and discuss the constitutional amendment.
"We're going to move forward--I would say the majority of the members would like to see some gaming amendment move forward, so we'll continue to talk," he said.
John Sikura, owner of Hill 'n' Dale Farm, said, "The (committee) members showed they were sympathetic to our industry, but when it came time to guarantee (racetracks) would be part of the process, they chose not to (support it), and that's disappointing."
Said Patrick Neely, executive director of KEEP: "We were pleased with the committee's vote to get (Wilkey and Clark's amendment) passed. We certainly think that it's the most helpful to our industry, but it still sits in committee, so that's just more work to do our part. I think (the legislation) still has a chance."