FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Gov. Steve Beshear and Democratic House
leaders on Thursday discussed the future of legislation that would
allow video gambling at racetracks to boost the state's ailing
The meeting came three days after Churchill Downs cut race days
and decreased purses citing financial troubles. No decision was
made, but Beshear, a Democrat who based his 2007 campaign for
governor largely on his support for additional gambling in
Kentucky, said the state's horse industry was in crisis.
"It seems now to be snowballing and the industry is really
getting close to being in freefall," Beshear told reporters after
the meeting. "I think it would be tragic if we don't do everything
we can to prevent that."
Kentucky bills itself as the horse capital of the world, and
each year hosts the Kentucky Derby, which remains a top draw and
generates worldwide interest. The state is also planning to host
the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Lexington.
State racing officials earlier this week agreed to slash seven
racing days from Churchill Downs' spring calendar. Other tracks
around Kentucky also have reported financial problems recently.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, a Prestonsburg Democrat, has proposed
legislation that would allow video gambling machines at race tracks
across the state. Stumbo said the plan would generate additional
money for tracks to offer larger purses and bring the state up to
$350 million when fully operational.
"The urgency of their situation requires that we do something
immediately if we're going to save our racing industry in this
state," House Speaker Greg Stumbo said.
Still, the idea has had its share of opposition.
Martin Cothran, spokesman for the antigambling Say No To Casinos
group, said he believes the plan would be an unconstitutional
expansion of gambling.
"This kind of mechanized gambling is not only predatory in
terms of taking money from people who can't really afford it, but
it's predatory on the horse industry," Cothran said in a
statement, "since mechanized gambling, which is more enticing and
more profitable, will eventually drive out the horses."
Beshear has the option of calling the General Assembly into a
special session to deal with this or other issues. But Thursday's
meeting did not include leaders of the Republican-controlled
Senate President David Williams, a Burkesville Republican,
personally opposes the expansion of gambling, spokeswoman Lourdes
Baez-Schrader said. Williams, an attorney, has not spoken with the
governor or speaker and is currently in trial, she said, adding
that Beshear has requested a meeting.
Some lawmakers have touted expanded gambling as a way to bring
in more money without raising taxes.
Lawmakers earlier this year raised taxes on cigarettes and
liquor to help offset a $456 million budget shortfall. Beshear has
predicted the state may be facing a $1 billion budget shortfall in
the next fiscal year that begins July 1.
Nevertheless, Beshear said helping Kentucky's horse industry is
crucial to its economy.
"This is one of our signature industries and we cannot afford
to allow this industry to go in serious decline," Beshear said.
"We've long cherished the title of the horse capital of the world,
and I don't want to lose that title."
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)