Kentucky Legislative Leaders Cool on Racetrack Gaming

With the 2004 Kentucky General Assembly session set to get under way Jan. 6, the state's racing and breeding industry, which has devised legislation to authorize a constitutional amendment on racetrack casinos, is working to line up sponsors. Legislative leaders, however, continue to downplay the chances of passage of any bill to expand gambling.

On the Jan. 5 edition of Kentucky Tonight on the KET network, the issue of expanded gambling was broached, and it received a rather rude reception. The racetracks have taken the lead in recent years in the push for electronic gaming devices, and this year plan to drum up support for a public vote on full-scale casino gambling.

"For expanded gambling to pass--it's such a divisive issue--the governor would have to promote it and push it," House Speaker Jody Richards said during the television program.

His comment was followed by laughter. One legislator then said: "We all know that's not going to happen."

Gov. Ernie Fletcher has said he's opposed to expanded gambling but wouldn't stand in the way of a constitutional amendment should one be approved by the legislature. Polls in general have indicated public support for expanded gambling at tracks.

The racing industry's plan, as of early January, called for basic revenue splits: 40% for the state, 47% for the tracks, and 13% for purses, breed development, and backstretch programs.

Sen. David Williams, who calls the shots in the Senate, called the proposal offensive because the tracks would get 47% of gross revenue. No one made any mention that the racetracks would have to spend about $1 billion of their cut to build facilities that could compete with those in neighboring states, and thus maximize the revenue for all parties.

The constitutional amendment also would list which programs would get state money. Williams called it "false advertising."

Though widely considered Kentucky's signature industry, horse racing and breeding get very little respect in Frankfort, the state capital. The industry is said to be working on a plan to get more people involved in advocacy, and also to get other special interests around the state to put their weight behind the proposal.

Hill 'N' Dale Farm owner John Sikura recently told The Blood-Horse legislators need to start looking at the industry as commerce resource rather than a tax resource.

Industry officials were scheduled to meet again Jan. 6 to further discuss the plan for a constitutional amendment. As of Jan. 5, there was no word on which legislators might opt to sponsor the measure.