If the Kentucky General Assembly ends without passing legislation that would statutorily permit Instant Racing machines at Kentucky racetracks, the state racing commission would then consider its options as far as implementing the form of gaming.
While it appears Instant Racing legislation is doomed for the current legislative session, which ends in mid-April, Kentucky Horse Racing Commission chairman Robert Beck said the commission will not consider any action on Instant Racing until the session ends. In the meantime, KHRC staff is studying the Instant Racing concept in an effort to make a recommendation to the commission.
"It’s not over in (the state capital of) Frankfort until the fat lady sings," Beck said following the commission's meeting April 5, noting some optimism for the bill to be revived. "So we have not had any discussions (at the commission) so far. We are watching closely what happens in the legislature."
Instant Racing machines resemble video lottery terminals and offer electronic games that are based on recycled horse and dog races. Instant Racing has been used successfully in Arkansas, where standard slot machines are not permitted, to help generate additional funds for purses at Oaklawn Park.
In Arkansas, 14% of Instant Racing revenue goes to the horsemen for purses, which have steadily improved since the introduction of the machines. Other electronic games of skill that are not pari-mutuel in nature are also permitted in the state.
Legislation containing Instant Racing was approved by the Republican-controlled Senate Committee on State and Local Government in early March, but the same committee took no action on a revised bill that came before it a week later. On March 25, Republican Sen. Damon Thayer, who chairs the committee, said he would not bring the bill back up because there were insufficient votes to pass it.
If the legislature fails to approve Instant Racing, it would then be up to the KHRC to determine what, if any, action it can take to change state regulations to permit it, Beck said.
Earlier this year, the state attorney general’s office issued an opinion stating that although there is nothing in state law prohibiting a form of electronic gaming called Instant Racing, it is not currently permissible in the Bluegrass State because it "does not constitute pari-mutuel wagering as defined by the administrative regulations promulgated" by the racing commission.
"We are not going to be caught unaware," Beck said of the commission’s possible consideration of Instant Racing, adding the commission staff is reviewing the attorney general’s opinion and what options would be available to the KHRC.
"The Instant Racing Pari-Mutuel Wagering System is a system that involves wagering on races that have long since concluded," assistant attorney general Lisa Lang wrote in the opinion. "While there is nothing in Kentucky’s Act that clearly prohibits wagering under these conditions, Instant Racing is clearly not the type of pari-mutuel wagering contemplated by the administrative regulations. The administrative regulations... clearly contemplate live racing only."
Marty Maline, executive director of the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, said he believes any initiative to change racing regulations to permit Instant Racing would likely come from the racetracks that would install the machines.
Though Instant Racing would not generate the same kind of revenue that would be achieved if VLTs were permitted at racetracks, any financial boost to the industry would be well-received, Maline said. Legislation allowing VLTs also failed in the Kentucky General Assembly.
"If it gets any help to the industry, we are for it," Maline said.