Instant Racing Debate Moves To Lexington

The Red Mile, a standardbred horse track in Lexington, was the site of Kentucky’s second public hearing on Instant Racing.

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In July, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission unanimously approved regulations allowing Instant Racing at the state’s eight horse tracks. Instant Racing allows bettors to place electronic wagers on previously run horse races. Before the regulations go into effect, the public gets to weigh-in on them.

Last week, the Revenue Cabinet held a sparsely attended hearing in Frankfort on taxation of Instant Racing. Only two people spoke and both were Instant Racing opponents. But the hearing at The Red Mile drew more than 100 people, most with ties to the horse industry.

The first to speak was Lexington veterinarian Andy Roberts, an east coast native who says he moved to Kentucky for the horses. But Roberts says Kentucky is losing its signature industry to states like Indiana, where casino revenues help pump up race purses.

“If it gets to the point where there’s nothing left here in the horse business, I can tell you what will happen to me,” said Roberts. “The farm will go up for sale, and the last hundred bucks I’ve got in my pocket will fuel my truck to drive me to Indiana, where I don’t want to live!”

Attorney Stan Cave, who represents the Family Foundation of Kentucky, spoke next. He says the pari-mutuel laws in Kentucky allow betting only on live races.

“Gambling on videos of previously run horse races is nothing more than gambling through the use of video slot machines,” said Cave.

And that, says Cave, does not meet Kentucky’s legal definition of pari-mutuel gambling.

“The handle and payout, associated with betting on videos of previously run horse races, is not pari-mutuel.”

But Patrick Neely of the Kentucky Equine Education Project, or KEEP, begs to differ.

“The money is collected in a pari-mutuel pool and if you are successfully able to handicap a historic horse race, you are paid out of that pool,” said Neely.

Many of the 14 people who spoke, including Carrie Brogdon of Paris, questioned why Instant Racing at horse tracks is such a hot button issue in a state that allows charitable gaming at churches.

“Who cares?” questioned Brogdon. “Why all the control? What gives anyone in this room the right to say what I can and can’t do with my money and my extra time?”

Others like Linda Boyd of Lexington say the whole issue of expanded gambling should have been put to voters years ago.

“Everything has been shut down to where the people have not been allowed to vote,” said Boyd. “And I do believe that the people have the right to vote.”

Former Gov. Brereton Jones, who was in the audience but didn’t speak during the hearing, says he worked hard for such a vote, but ran into strong opposition from the churches. Now, he believes it’s too late.

“It will take a minimum of two-and-a-half years to get it done, get it appealed and go on – if in fact the people even voted for it,” Jones told Kentucky Public Radio. “At the end of two-and-a-half years, there will be tens of thousands of families that will have left the state and our industry will not be dying, but will be dead.”

Martin Cothran of the Family Foundation says the organization certainly isn’t out to kill Kentucky’s horse industry.

“But we do not support helping the horse industry by hurting it,” said Cothran. “And that’s what we do when we try to help the horse industry by bringing in mechanized gambling.”

From here, the Instant Racing regulations move to the legislature, for review by an oversight committee. The panel’s vote is non-binding, so the regulations can move ahead with or without the committee’s blessing. However, the legality of Instant Racing is still being tested in Franklin Circuit Court.

By Tony McVeigh

Veteran broadcast journalist Tony McVeigh has been covering Kentucky politics since 1986, reporting for Clear Channel Communications before joining Kentucky Public Radio in 2004. His stories are aired by seven KPR affiliates, whose signals blanket the Commonwealth and parts of surrounding states. McVeigh began his broadcasting career at WRFC in Athens, Georgia, while earning a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of Georgia. He has extensive anchor/reporter experience, including stints with South Carolina Network and Georgia Radio News Service in Atlanta. In 2007 and 2008, McVeigh was named Best Radio Reporter in the Kentucky Associated Press Awards. He also picked up consecutive AP Awards for Best Political Coverage. McVeigh won four Kentucky AP Awards in 2009, six in 2010 - including Best Political Coverage and Best Hard News Feature - and three in 2011. His coverage of the 2007 Kentucky governor's race topped the Political Reporting category of the Society of Professional Journalists Green Eyeshade Awards of 2008. In 2009, McVeigh placed second in Courts and Law Reporting in the Atlanta-based competition for journalists in 11 Southern states. McVeigh is also the proud recipient of an Individual Liberty Award from the Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. The Brunswick, Georgia, native is a die-hard UGA football fan who enjoys photography, astronomy, live music, hiking Kentucky's Red River Gorge and exploring the state's beautiful back roads. McVeigh and his big, fat, black cat Simon, reside in Frankfort, KY.