By T. D. Thornton
A Kentucky State Senator whose district includes Turfway Park said Thursday that he intends to file legislation and hold a hearing next week to make historical horse race (HHR) gaming legal, “maintaining the status quo” for the revenue flow that annually contributes tens of millions of dollars to purses in the state.
“Next week, I will file legislation to keep historical horse racing operational in Kentucky,” Senator John Schickel (R-Union) stated in a Jan. 28 press release first published by WTVQ.com. “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.
“This effort is about preserving a system of wagering we've known for live racing for decades and historical horse racing for the last 10 years. This is about maintaining the status quo. Our immediate action as legislators is critical to protecting current and future jobs and economic development across the Commonwealth.
“I have long supported Kentucky's equine industry and recognize the importance of historical horse racing to its continued success. This issue is of particular importance in my district with the future of Turfway Park potentially in the balance, but if left unaddressed, the negative consequences are sure to impact the entire state. I look forward to working with my colleagues in General Assembly to address the clear legislative direction provided by the Kentucky Supreme Court,” Schickel concluded.
Schickel's statement did not disclose any specifics of the bill.
According to kentuckytoday.com, Schickel later added that he plans to file the bill Feb. 2, the first day lawmakers are back in session, and that it will have a hearing in the Senate Licensing and Occupations Committee, of which he is the chairman, on Feb. 4.
In a Sept. 24, 2020, judgment, the Supreme Court ruled 7-0 that HHR machines made by Exacta Systems do not “create a wagering pool among patrons such that they are wagering among themselves as required for pari-mutuel wagering.” The ruling also told a lower court to re-examine the legality of the most crucial form of funding for purses in Kentucky.
Although the Supreme Court case only involves HHR machines made by Exacta Systems, whose machines are in use at the Red Mile, Kentucky Downs and Ellis Park, the gaming systems operate in broadly the same manner throughout Kentucky, meaning that a precedent established for one version is likely to affect all forms of HHR. Anti-gambling advocates in Kentucky have challenged the legality of HHR since the inception of that form of gaming.
On Jan. 21, the Kentucky Supreme Court denied a petition for rehearing its September judgment, creating an apparent dead-end to the case in the courts.
Three days later, on Jan. 24, Keeneland Association and Red Mile announced they would be shutting their joint historical horse racing (HHR) venture at the Lexington harness racino while imploring the Kentucky legislature to provide “more clarity” regarding the disputed legal status of HHR.
On Jan. 26, Vince Gabbert, Keeneland's vice president and chief operating officer, said that “the measures that we took over the weekend have helped bring the urgency even more to the forefront than what we had so that the legislature understands the impact that not only racing, but HHR has on the economy in the commonwealth.”
Gabbert termed the HHR closure a “conservative” decision. It stands out because HHR venues operated by other licensees have remained operational in Kentucky.
Also on Jan. 26, Ellis Park general manager Jeffery Inman warned in a statement that “Without the revenue associated with HHR, there is no realistic path forward for Ellis Park.”
Turfway Park is currently conducting spectator-free live racing with simulcasting and HHR gaming proceeding at its satellite facility 12 miles away in Newport. But back in October, Churchill Downs Inc., (CDI), the gaming corporation that owns the tracks and HHR licenses associated with Churchill Downs Racetrack and Turfway Park, halted reconstruction on the Turfway grandstand it demolished a year ago, vowing not to continue with the planned rebuild until HHR's legality gets sorted out.