Report: Keeneland to Support Track-Run Alternative Gaming

Report: Keeneland to Support Track-Run Alternative Gaming
Photo:
Keeneland president Nick Nicholson.
The initiative to get alternative gaming--likely slot machines--in Kentucky has received a major boost with a published report saying that the Keeneland Association will support the effort.

The Lexington Herald-Leader reported that Keeneland president Nick Nicholson said Keeneland's reversal of earlier opposition to alternative gaming is a result of budget shortfall in the state and comes with a caveat that the gaming be controlled by the horse industry.

"To say 'we don't want it' is no longer a responsible position to take," Nicholson said in reference to the estimated $532-million budget shortfall. "If the commonwealth of Kentucky wants to do this, as part of balancing the budget, then Keeneland and the other tracks are working on a program. We're offering to manage the facilities, share the revenue and grow the industry."

Nicholson declined to say whether Keeneland would ever have actual slot machines on the Keeneland premises. He said Keeneland favors legislation that would expanded gambling go through the existing Kentucky Lottery Corp. rather than a constitutional amendment on the issue.

On Friday, the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association board of directors voted Friday to support alternative forms of gaming at racetracks subject to several provisions, including protection of live racing.

Marty Maline, executive director of the Kentucky HBPA, said the horsemen's group hired an expert to provide input on issues ranging from revenue splits to costs associated with implementing video lottery terminals or slot machines. For horsemen, though, the key issue is division of revenue.

"The board (of the Kentucky HBPA) has been very definitive that in fact (alternative gaming) must protect live racing," Maline said. "The revenue splits have to be something that will assist in promoting live racing in Kentucky."

Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association board of directors voted Friday to support alternative forms of gaming at racetracks subject to several provisions, including protection of live racing.

Marty Maline, executive director of the Kentucky HBPA, said the horsemen's group hired an expert to provide input on issues ranging from revenue splits to costs associated with implementing video lottery terminals or slot machines. For horsemen, though, the key issue is division of revenue.

"The board (of the Kentucky HBPA) has been very definitive that in fact (alternative gaming) must protect live racing," Maline said. "The revenue splits have to be something that will assist in promoting live racing in Kentucky."

The provisions put forth by the Kentucky HBPA board Friday are preservation of horsemen's rights and benefits, protection of live racing under existing state and federal laws, and an equitable share of revenue from gaming.

"We will have to negotiate with racetracks over that issue," Maline said of revenue splits. "We want to be fair with the racetracks because we understand it would cost them a lot of money to get (an alternative gaming program) going."

Representatives of the Kentucky HBPA are to meet with representatives of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association Jan. 10 to compare notes. In late December, the KTA board of directors voted to support alternative gaming at tracks subject to equitable division of revenue.

Maline said horsemen have raised other questions, such as whether stabling and shipping costs would be paid for through revenue from alternative gaming -- presumably video lottery terminals or slot machines -- at tracks.

Kentucky legislators have told the horse racing industry it must be on the same page if any industry-relief bill is to have a chance. Most of the state's racetracks have come out publicly in favor of alternative gaming.

The Kentucky HBPA and the KTA represent Thoroughbred horsemen in the state. (The HBPA is the sole negotiator at Ellis Park and Turfway Park. It is the majority negotiator at Churchill Downs; at Keeneland, the HBPA and the KTA split it 50-50). The Kentucky Harness Horsemen's Association represents Standardbred horsemen at the state's three harness tracks.

It remains to be seen how much weight the state's budget crunch -- it needs hundreds of millions of dollars -- will carry should the racing industry push for alternative gaming. Previous efforts, including a push for casinos in 1994, have failed.

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