FRANKFORT, KY -- Legislation that Rep. Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, plans to file for the upcoming legislative session would pour $15 million to $20 million from video lottery terminals into horse racing purses, something Kentucky racetracks say they desperately need to compete, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader in its Sunday edition.
"I'm convinced if we don't do something, we're going to lose our horse industry," Stumbo said in an interview last week. "We may end up with just two tracks."
His proposal also would bring in nearly $300 million in new revenue for the state to put toward needs such as education and prisons at a time when Kentucky is facing huge budget shortfalls, reports the newspaper.
"Racino" states such as Indiana, Pennsylvania and New York are ramping up competition for the state's racehorses and breeding industry with purses and incentives fueled by expanded gambling.
A task force appointed by Gov. Steve Beshear to look at horse racing recommended increasing purses on Monday but did not offer any suggestions to pay for more prize money.
A draft of Stumbo's bill proposes to dedicate 80 percent of the racetracks' video lottery terminals revenue to purse enhancements, but Stumbo said that specifics of how to spend the money are still being debated.The racing industry supports the measure, the Herald-Leader reports.
"It may be too late to save the Thoroughbred industry, but from my perspective as a Kentuckian, I want to give us a chance to compete. It would be a shame to let this go through lack of action," said Ron Geary, owner of Ellis Park in Henderson. "I'm hoping there may be a change of attitude as far as saving the horse industry ... This bill makes so much sense."
Geary, the other racetracks, and horse industry groups have lobbied unsuccessfully for expanded gambling for at least a decade. More than a dozen states, including major racing states such as New York, Florida, Illinois and Louisiana, have some type of alternative gambling that could shore up purses, reports the Herald-Leader.
"We are obviously hopeful the legislature is willing to improve our competitive position as it relates to surrounding states," said Patrick Neely, spokesman for the Kentucky Equine Education Project, which has lobbied for expanded gambling. "The governor's task force made it perfectly clear: The surrounding states are doing all they can to take our horses."
As Keeneland president Nick Nicholson put it last week in the report to Beshear, "The threat to Kentucky's horse industry is very real and it's not long-term; it's imminent." the newspaper reports.
Numbers compiled by the task force found that, because of recently added slots, purses in Indiana and Pennsylvania are expected to more than double next year. New York has awarded a contract for its Aqueduct racino and Gov. David Paterson on Tuesday proposed adding another at Belmont. Maryland voted to expand gambling in November, making Kentucky the only Triple Crown state without gambling-supported racing.
Beshear said Monday that he will not look to expanded gambling to address the state's $456 million budget shortfall for this fiscal year, which ends June 30, the newspaper reports.
But Stumbo said he thinks gambling revenue could be needed down the road. "We could limp through this fiscal year, but what happens next year if this doubles? We could be facing a billion-dollar shortfall next year," he said.
Stumbo, who is challenging Democratic Rep. Jody Richards of Bowling Green for Speaker of the House, said he will file the bill regardless of who wins that contest, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader.
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