Kentucky Farm Bureau members might get a chance to weigh in on expanded gambling at their annual convention in December.
The group's equine advisory committee is recommending that members "urge the General Assembly to adopt legislation that would put Kentucky's equine industry on equal footing with other states," according to a Farm Bureau publication.
That is "not necessarily" meant as an endorsement of expanded gambling, said Alex Barnett, chairman of the equine policy committee and judge-executive of Harrison County.
"We're just trying to come up with a way to not lose our competitive advantage," he said. "It's just kind of a general statement. ... If they interpret it as expanded gambling and that's not backed up by our policy book, it probably won't make it through ... voting at the annual meeting."
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Barnett's committee took the nuanced stance after presentations last month by the Kentucky Equine Education Project and the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, both groups that have lobbied for electronic slots at racetracks.
KEEP spokesman Patrick Neely said the potential shift is "extremely encouraging."
The racetracks and many horse breeders say they need slots at tracks to keep up with Indiana, Pennsylvania and New York, which have or will have millions from casinos to pour into purses.
Indiana has recently targeted Kentucky breeders, advertising gambling-fueled incentives designed to lure stallions, mares and breeding operations over the border.
Kentucky lawmakers are divided over gambling. Gov. Steve Beshear and House Speaker Greg Stumbo, both Democrats, have supported expanded gambling measures but Republican Senate President David Williams has opposed them.
Barnett said he thinks the move is significant because he sees a need for helping Kentucky's horse industry.
"We have neighboring states that are offering higher purses and handsome breeding incentives which are putting Kentucky at a competitive disadvantage in the horse industry," Barnett said.
Farm Bureau lobbyist Jeff Harper said the issue has not come up before.
"Right now, we do not have a position for or against expanded gaming in the commonwealth," Harper said. He said there were about 800 voting delegates at last year's annual convention, which sets the influential group's policy recommendations to state and federal lawmakers. Any county delegate can bring an issue either to the group's resolutions committee or to the body as a whole.
"If one of those (delegates) wants it to be brought up, it will be brought up," Harper said.
Barnett anticipates that even if the resolutions committee does not put something forth, it will come up.
"It will receive some discussion on the delegate floor," he predicted. "Depending on how it is interpreted, whether it is interpreted as expanded gaming or not, will determine how it flows through the delegate body."
Barnett, who is not in the horse industry, said he is "neutral" on expanded gambling.
"I can see some positives but I can see some negatives. That's how a lot of the farm community is," he said.
But, he said, he sees a bigger negative in the damage to a key part of the state's farm economy.
"In order to help the horse industry," Barnett said, "we need to look at avenues to increase purses and breeding incentives in order to remain the horse capital of the world."