It's Common Sense

By Brereton C. Jones -- Certainly nobody should doubt my love of the horse industry. From the time I was eight or 10 years old, living on a farm in West Virginia, as people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said I wanted to raise horses in Kentucky. So I feel blessed I am living my dream. In my opinion, Kentucky is the horse capital of the world. I love it with a passion and am willing to fight for its long-term future.

Because of this strong affection, it was with great sadness that I watched the industry I love unintentionally embarrass itself and many of us involved by the way it approached the Kentucky General Assembly in an effort to get slot machines at the horse tracks.

I know I don't have all the answers, but the political experience I have had would lead me to several conclusions:

1. We as an industry must be concerned not just with what is good for the horse industry, but we must be concerned with the common good of the entire commonwealth. Listening to ads "paid for by the horse industry," telling the public that we needed help did not persuade many people. Underpaid school teachers, seniors who can't afford to buy their medicine, veterans who feel forgotten, and parents of mentally challenged children have difficulty believing the horse industry needs or deserves more help than they do.

2. To be successful, we must build a coalition with all those groups that are in a true need of help from Frankfort. Such a coalition cannot be built during a few weeks of a legislative session. It must be done over a period of many months and must include not just the lobbyists that are around the capital, but also many of the rank and file members of these various groups around the state. The power of the people cannot be overestimated. If we are to be successful, we must give as many people as possible a reason to be on our side.

3. We must recognize that most Kentuckians do not want a proliferation of gambling in our state, and we must present a plan that guarantees this will not happen. That is why a constitutional amendment will be necessary. It must state that expanded gambling opportunities, to meet the competition from other states, can only take place where existing gambling is already legal--the horse tracks. In such an amendment, we must state exactly how every penny will be allocated. The teachers, the veterans, the seniors, etc. must know that when a dollar is bet, they are guaranteed a certain percent and that no politician can ever take it away from them. The horse industry must have the same guarantee, and that can only come in our constitution. It must not come in the form of legislation that can be easily changed by the General Assembly. If the tracks are to keep their gambling licenses, the constitution must require them to run at least as many live races each year as they did in the year when they got the license. We have no guarantee that future track ownership will be as committed to the health of our industry as is the present ownership.

4. A great many legislators don't want to run the political risk of voting for increased gambling, even if it is held at existing locations (the tracks). But they would, in most cases, feel comfortable in allowing the public the opportunity of making the decision for themselves in the form of a constitutional amendment. With the support of a coalition of many citizens who would be guaranteed meaningful benefits, the possibility of success will be greatly enhanced. And by putting it in the constitution, we know that it cannot be changed during a chaotic legislative session when no one's looking. Think about it. To me, it's just common sense.

Brereton C. Jones owns Airdrie Stud near Midway, Ky. and is a former governor of the commonwealth of Kentucky.