12/05/2014 3:22PM

Kentucky lobbying group pulls support of legalized casino gambling


The Kentucky Equine Education Project, a racing lobbying group in Kentucky, will no longer actively support legislation that would legalize casino gambling in the state, the group announced Friday.

In a statement, KEEP said the group’s board adopted a resolution to withdraw support for casino gambling legislation at a meeting Tuesday. The resolution notes that the group, which is comprised of many farm owners and farm employees, remains supportive of Instant Racing, the slot machine-like devices that are in operation at Kentucky Downs and Ellis Park and that are planned for a facility in Lexington jointly owned by Keeneland and the Red Mile.

Doug Cauthen, the treasurer of KEEP, said Friday the new resolution is recognition of “the evolution” of the issues surrounding casino gambling in Kentucky. Bills authorizing casino gambling have made only limited progress in the state legislature over the past 10 years, and during the most recent effort, many legislators advocated for a bill that would allow casinos to open unattached to existing pari-mutuel facilities.

Meanwhile, the Instant Racing machines – which are limited under existing state law to racetracks – have contributed $7.5 million to Thoroughbred purses, Cauthen said. Combined with the existing operations, projections for the new machines at the Red Mile and a new facility in Corbin are for $10 million in total purse subsidies a year, Cauthen said.

“We can clearly see the benefits and projected benefits of Instant Racing,” Cauthen said. “But we can’t see what a casino would or wouldn’t be.”

It is unclear whether a casino gambling bill would receive much support in the next legislative session in Kentucky. Earlier this year, Churchill Downs Inc., which has been the most aggressive supporter of gambling legislation, contributed $100,000 to a political action committee seeking to elect conservatives to the state legislature, angering Democrats. The Democrats retained control of the state’s House in the November elections.

In addition, the bloom has begun to come off the rose. Many casinos are nowhere near as profitable as they once were as markets in the U.S. begin to reach saturation point with the proliferation of facilities over the past 10 years.

When asked if KEEP would oppose a casino gambling bill if one were introduced in Kentucky, Cauthen said the group would first assess how the bill would affect the racing industry.

“We would be not supporting, as the resolution states,” Cauthen said. “But we would evaluate any bill for how it could impact our members.”