House Holds Hearing on Kentucky Gaming Bill

The House Licensing and Occupations Committee on March 4 heard the pros and cons of legislation that would authorize electronic gaming devices at Kentucky's eight racetracks and create a gaming commission to oversee their operation. It was the first of what is expected to be many hearings on the bill through March.

A long list of speakers had signed in as of noon, when the hearing began in Frankfort. By 1 p.m., only those in favor of expanded gaming had spoken before a small gathering of legislators. Members of Citizens Against Gambling Expansion were on hand, as were other opponents.

The horse racing industry has released projections that claim the state could net $1.7 billion over six years if its eight tracks have EGDs, as they have been called in the Bluegrass State. At some tracks, purses would at least double if revenue projections are correct.

The hearing opened with endorsements from the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Greater Louisville Inc., the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, and the Kentucky League of Cities. The organizations had offered their support of the legislation earlier in the process.

Steve Stevens, vice president of public affairs for the Northern Kentucky chamber, said of the 2,000 businesses in a three-county area that includes Turfway Park, 70% are in favor of the bill. He said Turfway generates $3.6 million a year in state and local taxes and plans to invest $125 million to accommodate EGDs and related amenities.

Tony Sholar, senior vice president of public affairs for the Kentucky chamber, called the bill "an effort, in our opinion, to recapture lost revenue." Proponents of the legislation estimate that Kentuckians spend about $400 million on riverboat casinos in bordering Indiana.

Keeneland president Nick Nicholson, one of the racetrack representatives who spoke, said Keeneland changed its position on alternative gaming for three reasons: Kentucky needs money, the "explosive growth" of gambling in other states, and competition for a quality racing product.

"If the only gambling was (at casinos) in Nevada and New Jersey...Keeneland would not be here today," Nicholson said. "The threat to the horse industry alone is not reason enough to legalize alternative gaming. We recognize it's a broader issue, that it's a community issue."

Horsemen's representatives from the Thoroughbred and Standardbred industries also made their case before the legislators. Some owners and breeders were in the audience, including Bill Farish of Lane's End Farm and Alice Chandler of Mill Ridge Farm.

As of March 4, the industry had begun a grass-roots campaign to get horsemen to call their legislators. In addition, a provision of the bill to implement Quarter Horse simulcasting has the support of the American Quarter Horse Association. Revenue from the simulcasts would go to a Quarter Horse fund, presumably to support live racing.

The AQHA has 4,000 members in Kentucky, and about 30,000 registered horses in the state.

Meanwhile, a serious public relations campaign is planned for newspapers, and radio and television stations in key markets, proponents of the legislation said.