Herald-Leader Editorial

Fighting facts in rush for revenue; Public has right to instant-racing info

May 17, 2013 

Money is a powerful thing.

The most recent reminder of this enduring truth is the Commonwealth of Kentucky's argument against the legal process of discovery.

Discovery allows both sides of a dispute in court to get information relevant to their cases. It's fundamental to our system of justice.

Except, apparently, when a state desperate for revenue really wants to sneak in a little extra gambling — and the revenue that comes with it.

So, that's what's led the Commonwealth of Kentucky to argue to the state Supreme Court that the Family Foundation should not have the right to discovery in its legal challenge of instant-racing machines.

No one, least of all the government that's supposed to represent the public, should be arguing against a fully informed examination of these issues in the courts.

Instant-racing machines, which no one disputes look and act like slot machines, allow gamblers to bet on the outcome of unidentified past races. The Racing Commission obligingly agreed in 2010 that instant racing could be considered pari-mutuel wagering which, of course, is legal in Kentucky. That's the system used at tracks in the United States, where the odds are set by those betting against each other, rather than by the house, as they are with slot machines.

The Family Foundation, which opposes any expansion of gambling, intervened in a case in which the state, the Racing Commission and the tracks sought a "declaration of rights" in Franklin Circuit Court that Kentucky law allows this type of wagering.

This is where things got a little weird. When the foundation sought to learn more about this type of wagering, the court turned it down, ultimately giving the other parties the green light.

The Kentucky Court of Appeals agreed with the foundation. Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Joseph Lambert, writing for the majority, noted that the issues involved "are complex," including how the wagers are pooled and the odds determined, and whether a video of an historical race is actually a horse race under Kentucky law.

But the trouble is those questions can't be answered without information. As Lambert wrote, "the role of discovery in the litigation process can hardly be overstated."

For about 20 years there's been interest in expanding gambling in Kentucky, an interest that heated up with the election of Gov. Steve Beshear in 2008.

The long battle is evidence that Kentuckians care deeply about this question of gambling, pro and con. Attempting to expand gambling by shutting down discovery in this case disrespects the public's interest and could in the long run undermine the pro-gambling efforts.

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