Horse industry calls on lawmakers to keep historical racing in Kentucky

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – Leaders in the thoroughbred industry testified Monday before the Interim Joint Committee on Licensing and Occupations in Frankfort, asking lawmakers to pass legislation in the upcoming General Assembly session defining pari-mutuel wagering in order to keep historical racing in the state.

Historical racing features slots-style machines allowing people to bet on randomly generated, past horse races.

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In September of this year, the Kentucky Supreme Court unanimously ruled that at least some slot-like historical horse racing games being used by racetrack gambling parlors in the state may not be legal.

The opinion and order reversed a 2018 Franklin Circuit Court’s approval of the gaming system, which is regulated by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.

The ruling from the high court came after a decade-long legal fight between the conservative Family Foundation, which opposes expanded gambling, and the state’s racetracks and regulators.  The games were first approved in 2010 to shore up declining purses and breeders’ incentives for Kentucky-bred and Kentucky-raced horses.

Last year, more than $2 billion was bet on historical horse racing, which generated more than $15 million for Kentucky’s general fund in tax revenue, $156 million for the tracks in Kentucky and more than $16 million for the horse industry, according to the industry.

The horse industry leaders who testified before lawmakers on Monday emphasized that historical horse racing has also led to tremendous job creation, economic investment and has been the primary driver of the industry in Kentucky.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, a Republican from Georgetown, has said in the past, if the situation isn’t remedied and historical racing allowed to continue, it would be a death blow to Kentucky’s horse industry.

Democratic Governor Andy Beshear is in favor of keeping the games going.

The Family Foundation argued from the beginning that historical racing is not pari-mutuel wagering and an illegal form of gambling in Kentucky.

The only forms of legal gambling in Kentucky are pari-mutuel wagering on racing, charitable gaming, such as bingo, and the lottery.  Casino gambling and slot machines are not allowed under the state constitution.

In its ruling in September, the Kentucky Supreme Court acknowledged the horse industry’s importance to Kentucky but said:  “If a change, however, in the long-accepted definition of pari-mutuel wagering is to be made, that change must be made by the people of the Commonwealth through their duly-elected legislators, not by an appointed administrative body and not by the judiciary.”