KEEP to Vote on Gaming When Time is Right

The Kentucky Equine Education Project's position on racetrack gaming will hinge on whether its board of directors believes such a pursuit is in the best interest of Kentucky residents, a KEEP official said Feb. 5 during a meeting with members of the media at Turfway Park.

KEEP chairman Brereton Jones, who operates Airdrie Stud near Midway, Ky., said it's imperative the horse industry has a level playing field with other states. Though KEEP hasn't taken a formal position on expanded gaming, it supports tax breaks and breed development incentives included in Gov. Ernie Fletcher's tax modernization plan.

"The governor's plan includes transferring existing taxes on stud fees into a new, breeder's incentive program for all breeds of horses--not just Thoroughbreds," KEEP executive director Claria Horn Shadwick said. "It is sound public policy to allow the industry to reinvest these dollars back into the horse economy to create additional jobs for Kentuckians. In addition, the governor's plan removes the requirement that non-residents must move horses out of Kentucky to avoid taxation. If we keep these horses here, it provides more jobs and benefits the economy through additional sales of support services like feed and grain, tack, and boarding fees."

Gene Clabes, KEEP equine director, said a breed development program for breeds of horses other than Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds would create opportunities for more horse farmers in the state.

As for gaming, Jones said the "ideal situation" would be a vote of the people and a constitutional amendment that specifies exactly how Kentucky residents would benefit from casino-style gambling. Among the pressing needs are funds for education, he said.

"Is KEEP strong enough to do that now?" Jones said in reference to a lobbying effort. "No. But that's the direction we're going in. In order to succeed, we have to put together coalitions that are extremely important. We have to be specific about what's best for Kentucky."

KEEP and others in the horse industry, including racetracks, haven't issued a position on gaming bills filed during the current General Assembly session. When asked if KEEP planned to devise a horse industry-specific gaming bill for the 2006 legislative session, Jones said it's too soon to make a definitive statement.

"Just connect the dots," Jones said. "We're being observant and getting ourselves ready."

Turfway president Bob Elliston, a member of the KEEP board, said the industry must be prepared "should an opportunity present itself. As much as we'd like to, we don't set the agenda for the General Assembly."

KEEP, launched last May, has more than 4,700 members. Its mission is to educate the public and legislators of the importance of all breeds of horses to the state's economy.

KEEP has proven effective in garnering support from non-racing factions. For instance, organization officials said 80 of 88 team leaders in Kentucky counties come from non-racing horse backgrounds. According to statistics, about 85% of the horses in the state aren't Thoroughbreds.

KEEP operations director Jim Navolio said the fact the organization has numerous 4-H members is proof of "the impact and momentum we have in the state."