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Sen. Thayer on his gambling amendment

November 10, 2009

The Courier-Journal ran a column today by state Sen. Damon Thayer, a Georgetown Republican, about the amendment he pre-filed to allow slot machines in counties with live horse racing.

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State Sen. Damon Thayer, Georgetown Republican (LRC photo)

In contrast to what is being pushed in the state House, Thayer’s bill is a constitutional amendment that will put the issue to the voters rather than letting legislators determine whether Kentucky’s horse tracks should be allowed to add slot machines to their offerings.

As Thayer notes, whether the state adopts a constitutional amendment or settles the matter legislatively, the issue is not going to be decided soon.

From the column –

Members of the horse industry say that it is too late for a constitutional amendment; that it would take too long for relief to arrive. I say that time-consuming litigation is assured with “slots by statute.”

Thayer also addresses the sweetheart deal that horse track owners would receive under the House’s slots bill, with track owners receiving subsidies from gambling tax revenues as well as the take from the slots themselves as owners.

From the column –

Finally, the question that needs to be answered is: Do you believe that increased purses and improved wagering products and marketing can save tracks, or will it be necessary to permanently subsidize tracks? Track officials reveal themselves when my friend, Turfway’s CEO Bob Elliston, said that my proposal would “help make Kentucky racing more competitive by increasing purses but it doesn’t help reinvigorate racetracks.”

It seems that it’s not about the horse-racing, the “show”; it’s about the companies that own the tracks. They don’t want just a minimal approach to beef up purses — which they had argued previously would bring more fans and help everyone — they want rampant slots to create gambling empires. It will not be long before the horses are marginalized. My amendment would prevent this.

Some may say, too little, too late.

I say that it is never too late to let the people decide.

But while Thayer’s amendment is an improvement over what Stumbo and House Democrats have backed, it still is far from being a proposal palatable to Kentuckians. Communities with live horse racing are still given priority under Thayer’s amendment, and if gambling is expanded in Kentucky, the entire state should have the opportunity to be in the game.

Any thoughts?

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