GOP lawmaker proposes bill to legalize historical horse racing

Historical horse racing, which the Kentucky Supreme Court determined was not pari-mutuel wagering and therefore not legal in Kentucky, may have new life as legislation will soon be filed to legalize it.

Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, announced Thursday that he will introduce a bill when lawmakers return next week for the second part of the 2021 Regular Session.

“The bill, which I am pleased to say will be co-sponsored by Senate President Robert Stivers, will address the recent Kentucky Supreme Court decision on pari-mutuel wagering and ensure that historical horse racing facilities are able to continue operating, while employing Kentuckians, generating state tax revenue and strengthening our signature equine industry,” Schickel said.

Last September, the justices issued an opinion written by Justice Laurance VanMeter. Five of the six other justices agreed with the opinion. It read, “Because we hold that the Encore system does not create a wagering pool among patrons such that they are wagering among themselves as required for pari-mutuel wagering, the trial court misapplied the applicable regulation as a matter of law.”

In a separate opinion, Justice Michelle Keller ultimately agreed with the outcome of the majority.

Last week, the high court denied a motion for rehearing, which essentially ended a decade long battle over the legality issue. It also led to the temporary closing of the historical horse racing facility at Lexington’s Red Mile, a few days later.

Kentucky Baptist Convention Executive Director-Treasurer Todd Gray reiterated Thursday the denomination’s stance against gambling. “Kentucky Baptists are on record opposing gambling in all its forms. Gambling hurts people, goes against a Christian work ethic, invites more crime, and can potentially destroy families,” Gray said.

Martin Cothan, the senior policy analyst for The Family Foundation, questioned the need for a new law legalizing the historical horse racing slot machines.

“Why do the horse racing tracks need a new law to keep operating slot parlors when they seem to be able to operate outside the law altogether anyway?” he said. “Only one of the facilities has closed – The Red Mile. The rest of them are operating as if nothing ever happened at the Kentucky Supreme Court.”

Despite the high court unanimously holding the ruling that found the machines illegal, they have continued to operate, Cothran said.

“We know of no other case in which a Supreme Court ruling that has been finalized has been ignored like this. This is a wealthy and influential industry that thinks it is above the law. They’ve gone rogue, and the fact that they think they can thumb their noses at the Court, is an indication of how powerful they think they are,” he said. “The horse tracks have gone rogue and the feckless state agency that is supposed to regulate them, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, can’t seem to keep its own books, let alone regulate anybody,” said Cothran, referring to an audit of the KHRC in 2019.

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