Kentucky Horsemen Briefed on Gaming Legislation

Kentucky horsemen were urged Feb. 27 to participate in a grass-roots campaign to contact legislators and urge them to support legislation that would authorize electronic gaming devices at the state's eight racetracks. The bill was introduced in the House of Representatives Feb. 26.

The meeting, held at the Keeneland sale pavilion, was organized in part by trainer David Banks, who is based at The Thoroughbred Center but in the last year or so has regularly shipped horses to Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort in West Virginia, where gaming machines have made for lucrative purses. About 60 horsemen attended the meeting.

"As we go into the 21st century, racing won't be the way it used to be," Banks said. "It will be entertainment, not just racing. As these tracks (with gaming devices) evolve, they'll take the best horses, trainers, and jockeys. They'll follow the money."

The bill had 14 sponsors in the House as of late Feb. 26, said David Switzer, executive director of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association. Switzer, whose board approved the push for alternative gaming a few months ago, and Marty Maline, executive director of the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, indicated the legislative process could be ever-changing and quite complicated.

"There will be amendments to the bill, we may or may not like them," Switzer said. "The bill could end up in conference committee, or could even be part of a special session if the budget is not finalized."

"It's a difficult process," Maline said. "We're far from being in the homestretch. I'd say most definitely there will be a legal challenge."

During a press conference Feb. 26 in Frankfort, the state capital, attorney Sheryl Snyder, recognized as an expert on constitutional law, said he believes the state Supreme Court would uphold the statute should it pass.

Insiders said there is some opposition to the bill from within the horse racing industry, but apparently it isn't widespread or been vocalized. Both the KTA and Kentucky HBPA boards support it, as do the racetracks. The Feb. 27 meeting at Keeneland was attended by a few breeders.

"I go out as being in favor of getting (alternative gaming)," said Pope McLean, owner of Crestwood Farm. "It's mainly about just fighting what's happening when you see revenue leaving Kentucky and going to other states. Some of these tracks may no longer exist if we don't do something. It's a little scary if you sit back and don't do anything."

A provision in the legislation funnels at least 10%, but not more than 40%, of revenue to the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund for Kentucky-bred purse supplements. That would provide for expansion of the program, which currently covers maiden special weight and allowance races, as well as stakes.

Another provision in the bill would give at least 10%, but not more than 40%, of revenue to a new Kentucky Thoroughbred Claiming Fund. That money would go to Kentucky-breds who compete in claiming races. Tracks like Turfway Park and Ellis Park would greatly benefit from the provision; Maline noted those two tracks make up about seven months of the state's year-round calendar.

"The majority of a card is made up of mostly claimers," Banks said. "It's a fantastic idea (to have claiming-race supplements). Those horses are getting bet on as much as horses in the allowance ranks."

On the Standardbred side, 10% of revenue would go toward supplements for trotters and pacers sired by Kentucky stallions. Harness industry representatives said the provision is designed to invigorate the Standardbred breeding industry in the state.

"I think it would be good for Kentucky to have a bill pass," said trainer Larry Demeritte, who races at Turfway in the winter. "Most people outside of our industry just look at the gambling side, but there's more to it than that. Look at the jobs we create.

"It's also more than just high-profile breeding farms. There are a lot of smaller farms that depend on being able to sell their horses. Last year, with (mare reproductive loss syndrome), some smaller farms really got hurt. Hopefully they can bounce back."

Purses at each track would be determined according to the amount of play in the EGDs. The bill says 50% of the revenue would be pooled between the five Thoroughbred tracks, and distributed according to the amount bet at each facility.

For instance, Kentucky Downs, the all-turf track on the Tennessee border, is expected to be a major revenue-producer, but it only races seven days a year. Maline said it's probable revenue from Kentucky Downs would go to Churchill Downs, Keeneland, Ellis Park, and Turfway, "but it would still have about $12 million for seven days of racing."

Switzer said the bill has major implications for the breeding industry in light of the fact Aqueduct in New York is in line for video lottery terminals, and Florida has racetrack-gaming legislation pending. Aqueduct's fall and winter racing program could become a big lure, while Florida already is a top breeding state.

"Florida wants to get our stallions, and it could do that with more money (for purses and the breeding fund)," Switzer said. "Those stallions we have in Kentucky are our magnet."

The KTA and Kentucky HBPA initiated e-mail campaigns earlier, and intend to continue with them. The Kentucky HBPA has about 6,000 members, not all of which are based in Kentucky year-round.

Related Story: Details of Legislation, Purse Projections