KEEP Works on Gaming Strategy; Could Shift Staff

The Kentucky Equine Education Project, formed about a year ago and already with a legislative feather in its cap, seems poised to push for alternative gaming in 2006 but its board of directors must be united in the course of action, the organization's chairman said.

Airdrie Stud owner and former Kentucky governor Brereton Jones discussed KEEP and its agenda May 5 as the guest speaker at the University of Louisville's Warner L. Jones lecture. Jones also revealed a proposed staff shuffle should the KEEP board approve at its May 11 meeting.

Claria Horn Shadwick, the first executive director for KEEP, would become director of research and strategy. Jim Navolio, currently operations director, would become executive director. Gene Clabes would continue to serve as equine director and also spearhead grassroots efforts.

Jones said KEEP doesn't want to bring in anyone new and "change the starting lineup." The full board must approve the recommended staff shifts, he said.

KEEP, a multi-breed, grassroots organization that hopes to hit the 10,000-member mark by the end of this year, was instrumental in getting about $15 million in stallion fees shifted from the state general fund to three breed development programs beginning July 1. Now it's laying the groundwork for an expected push for alternative gaming.

"KEEP is in the process of listening and talking about this," Jones said. "We're going to come up with a plan. It seems to me we've got to be united on this issue, and it has been a tough issue to unite on."

Major issues are whether to pursue gaming statutorily or via constitutional amendment, and whether to seek casino gambling only at racetracks or at tracks and non-racing locations. Jones has said he supports the constitutional amendment route in part because of public opinion and the public's right to vote.

"I think an overwhelming majority of Kentuckians do not want a proliferation of gambling," Jones said.

As for KEEP, he said: "We have to listen to everybody's side, and when we do agree, we must unite to go in one direction...If (gaming revenue) is shared in a satisfactory way with various groups in the state, I'm convinced we can put together the coalitions to get this thing done."

On several occasions during his talk, Jones mentioned the need for a united front. With a few exceptions, industry organizations and racetracks haven't voiced their opinions on how to pursue gaming and where it should be located.

Jones said KEEP also would pursue legislation to eliminate the sales tax on feed, fencing, and farm equipment. Officials have noted other industries in Kentucky don't pay the tax.

Shadwick, an attorney, said she is surveying major breed incentive programs in the United States and should have some information ready for a May 18 town hall meeting at 6 p.m. EDT at the Fasig-Tipton sale pavilion in Lexington. Thoroughbred interests will seek input from owners and breeders on how to construct a $12-million breed incentive program.

"As we gear up for the 2006 legislative session, we need to have the most and best information on what our industry is doing," Shadwick said. "I felt the best way to help this organization was to focus on strategic and research initiatives."

Navolio, former commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Business Development, said he looks forward to taking over as executive director should the KEEP board approve. Navolio was tapped by KEEP because of his previous interaction with people in the state; when he was hired, he had visited 118 of the 120 counties in Kentucky.

"I firmly believe in the mission of this organization," Navolio said.