Kentucky lawmakers pass bill to preserve historical horse race wagering

Published 9:39 pm Thursday, February 11, 2021

Kentucky’s horse industry won a high-stakes showdown Thursday night when lawmakers gave final passage to a bill aimed at securing the legal status of wagering on historical racing machines.

The House voted 55-38 to send the measure to Gov. Andy Beshear, who previously endorsed the bill intended to preserve a lucrative revenue source tapped into by the state’s racetracks. The Democratic governor welcomed the House action sending the bill to his desk, calling the measure a crucial step to ensure the state’s signature thoroughbred industry remains strong.

The slots-style ventures proliferated in the past decade and tracks reinvested some of the revenue to make Kentucky’s horse racing circuit more competitive with casino-backed tracks in other states.

But historical horse racing operations were jeopardized by a court ruling last year.

The bill seeks to fix flaws that led Kentucky’s Supreme Court to rule at least some forms of wagering on historical horse racing don’t meet pari-mutuel wagering standards. The measure would insert such operations into the definition of pari-mutuel wagering.

Fallout from the court ruling began recently when one of the state’s historical racing venues, operated jointly by Keeneland and Red Mile in Lexington, closed temporarily.

Historical racing machines allow people to bet on randomly generated, past horse races. The games typically show video of condensed horse races. The state’s racing industry pumped millions of dollars into developing historical horse racing parlors, and bettors in Kentucky wagered more than $2 billion on the machines in the past fiscal year.

During the nearly three-hour House debate, Republican Rep. Matthew Koch said historical racing has been “a shot in the arm for this industry.” The bill’s supporters warned the loss of that revenue would cripple the equine sector, eliminate jobs and hurt businesses servicing the industry.

“Let me remind you, that while Kentucky is the best place to raise a horse, it is not the only place that you can raise a horse,” Koch said. “And we have to fight to keep that here.”