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Bill aiming to legalize historical horse racing in Kentucky passes committee

Published: Feb. 4, 2021 at 10:05 AM EST
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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WKYT) - Months after the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled a form of gaming at horse tracks illegal, state lawmakers are trying to make it legal.

Historical horse racing is no longer allowed at tracks, such as The Red Mile.

It uses slot-like machines to allow people to bet on older horse races. Some still believe lawmakers are trying to get around constitutional rules to allow a form of gambling.

Historical Horse racing machines at The Red Mile allowed for jobs that are now ending because the Supreme Court said the devices were illegal.

“Starting this Sunday, 225 full-time jobs in Lexington and millions of dollars in jobs and benefits will be lost,” said Bill Lear, The Jockey Club.

Lear is among those pushing for a legal way to bring back the HHR machines, which look like slots but supporters say the games are a more high-tech way of wagering.

The bill is Senate Bill 120 and it aims to make legal the historical horse racing form of gaming.

SB 120, filed by Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, and backed by some Republicans and some Democrats, would clear up some language in hopes of making the gaming legal.

“One of the reasons I like it, it isn’t a constitutional amendment,” said Sen. Schickel. “Because I don’t want full-blown casinos in Kentucky. I want to focus on our horse industry.”

The question is if HHR machines are a form of pari-mutuel wagering, which is basically betting on horse racing, which is legal in Kentucky, or are they like the machines in Las Vegas, which are outlawed here.

Conservative groups opposed to gambling don’t buy the argument the machines are needed to save the horse industry and they believe it’s no better than expanded gambling.

“The biggest surprise to us is the number of conservatives who like to call themselves constitutionalists, who are anti-casino gambling,” said Martin Cothran, The Family Foundation.

Lawmakers typically opposed to expanded gambling support this bill which unanimously sailed through a committee.

“I think we are certainly in a gray area,” said Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville. “I believe we will see this resolved in a courtroom at some moment in time.”

The bill now moves on to the full Senate.

Governor Beshear has said he supports it but its fate is unclear in the House where a sports betting bill had trouble last year.

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