Kentucky Looks to 2006 for Racetrack Gaming Vote

The Kentucky racing industry's next chance to win approval for a constitutional amendment on racetrack casinos will come in 2006, the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association said in a letter to members.

The industry this year failed to muster support for legislation to authorize a public vote on casinos at five racetracks and four non-track locations. It marked the third consecutive year racetrack gaming bills died in the state.

"We will be working to improve our grass-roots efforts between now and then," the letter said. "We will be using our lobbyists, Government Strategies, during the interim to help us develop and implement a plan of action. In addition, we will be calling on our directors and members to help move this issue forward. History will show that when the breeders and owners get involved, things happen."

Much occurred behind the scenes at the state capital. Though all Kentucky industry groups were represented in negotiations on the legislation, the rank-and-file had no public presence.

The KTA in the letter said the industry remains concerned about proliferation of gaming outside racetracks.

"We felt that passage of a constitutional amendment with industry protections would give us the best chance of gaming legislation passage," the letter said. "After we agreed to four non-track locations, these protections became even more important."

The industry wanted a 25-mile buffer between a racetrack casino and a non-track casino, a limit to the number of locations (nine) and identification of all locations, and permission for a licensee to locate in a contiguous county should voters reject casino gambling in a local referendum. In the bill, one of the four non-track casinos could have been located anywhere, perhaps in direct competition with a racetrack.

"Without defined locations and a cap on the total number of facilities allowed, it would be very difficult to pass a constitutional amendment," the letter said.

Rep. Larry Clark, a Louisville Democrat who sponsored the casino bill, wouldn't agree to put the protections in the constitutional amendment language, the KTA said. Clark and Rep. Denver Butler, during a House Licensing and Occupations Committee meeting, ripped the racing industry and called it "greedy."

On another front, there remains a chance the industry could win approval for legislation to authorize creation of a multi-jurisdictional wagering hub in Kentucky. The Senate passed an amendment to that effect, and the House rejected, but it could end up in conference committee before the current session ends in mid-April.