KEEP Board to Ultimately Decide Gaming Position

The Kentucky Equine Education Project, which is yet to devise a legislative agenda, will let its still-evolving board of directors decide whether alternative gaming will be on its wish list, a representative said Sept. 8 during a meeting of the state Interim Joint Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources.

KEEP, formed to educate the public and legislators on the importance of the horse industry to the Kentucky economy, was front and center before the committee, which held its meeting at the Kentucky Horse Park near Lexington and planned to visit two horse farms later in the day. KEEP has appeared before the legislative Subcommittee on Horse Farming but never the full committee.

KEEP, which raised more than $1 million in about two months, has initially discussed issues such as breed development and tax relief for horse farmers and breeders. As a broad-based organization, KEEP represents many more non-racing breeds than racing breeds.

Though racing, purses, and alternative gaming haven't been on the front burner, Rep. Scott Brinkman broached the topic during the meeting attended by about 250 members of the equine industry. Brinkman said he couldn't see how Kentucky could increase purses and breeders' awards without revenue from alternative gaming.

Brinkman then asked KEEP executive director Claria Horn-Shadwick if the organization is aware of the impact gaming revenue has had on racing programs in other states.

"Absolutely," Horn-Shadwick said. "That's going to have a dramatic impact. That certainly has to be a consideration in Kentucky. We will ultimately take a stand on that issue."

Horn-Shadwick said the KEEP board of directors, which continues to grow, would decide on whether gaming would be part of its legislative package. She also said KEEP would push for "bold, creative, and responsible legislation to help horse farmers compete."

Brinkman said he didn't expect KEEP to take a position on gaming, only realize the state's budget demands.

"Clearly this state is going to be at a competitive disadvantage to fund those kinds of programs," Brinkman said.

Racetrack-led efforts to win approval for casino-style gambling have stalled in each of the past three legislative sessions. Last year, the racing industry agreed to pursue a constitutional amendment on the issue, and the resulting bill included non-racetrack locations.

KEEP organizers have said they don't plan to pursue any legislation until the 2006 session. Sen. Joey Pendleton, however, told horse industry representatives to let legislators know as soon as possible.

"We all know we're not going to get the whole pie at once," Pendleton said. "We need to know what to do before laying the groundwork. When that time comes, I hope you pack the rooms like you did today."

The large turnout was considered another victory for KEEP, which has made considerable headway since its launch in early May. Horn-Shadwick said representatives have visited 55 of Kentucky's 120 counties in only two months, and have identified "team leaders" for 22 counties. KEEP plans to have a spokesperson for each county.

Sen. Damon Thayer, an executive with the Breeders' Cup and National Thoroughbred Racing Association and also co-chair of the Subcommittee on Horse Farming with Rep. Susan Westrom, said the fact the full joint committee spent a day delving into the horse industry is a major step forward.