A decision on whether to call a special legislative session—one that could include alternative gaming and relief for the horse industry—will be made in a few weeks, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear said April 29.
A special session this spring or summer has been on the table for months. Some racing industry officials said they’ve heard it won’t happen, but others indicated a special session is likely.
In comments made after he spoke to attendees of the National Conference on Equine Law in Lexington, Beshear said he hasn’t decided to call the General Assembly back to Frankfort. The regular 2009 session ended in late March.
“We’re still reviewing revenue figures and waiting for the April numbers,” Beshear said. “It will give us a better picture. We’ll be making the decision in the next few weeks.”
Like many states, Kentucky has a budget shortfall in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Earlier this year, legislation to authorize racetrack video lottery terminals was introduced in the House of Representatives for the purpose of generating revenue for the horse industry and the state budget; the measure never made it to the House floor though it gained support.
In his address at the law conference, Beshear said he’s interested in raising funds for the horse industry and various state programs. The governor, in discussing statistics, said it’s clear states with alternative gaming at tracks are challenging Kentucky in racing and breeding of horses.
“Clearly, Kentucky has to respond to this,” Beshear said. “We need to take action to stem this tide. Some form of gaming is an absolute necessity in the long run.”
Beshear again called Kentucky the horse capital of the world.
“I like the sound of that,” said Beshear, who was elected in November 2007 on a platform that included casino-style gambling. “What we don’t want to happen is to become the former horse capital of the world. This is our signature industry, and we will aggressively protect it. We will remain the horse capital of the world as long as I am governor.”
Beshear also credited the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission for taking steps to improve integrity and safety in racing. The commission’s authority has been expanded, but the agency has been under-funded for years. Officials said they’ve been assured the funding woes will be addressed.
Beshear, a lawyer who has addressed law conference attendees in the past, is in the middle of a busy Derby week. He said he and his wife, Jane, traveled to Churchill Downs April 28 to watch workouts; attended the annual trainers’ dinner, also in Louisville, that night; and plan to be on hand for Oaks and Derby programs May 1-2.
Beshear said presenting the Derby trophy is “a thrill that is hard to describe,” though he admitted he’d rather receive the trophy as the owner of the winning horse. He first presented the Derby trophy in 2008.