A law that would allow gambling on racing of dead horses was approved by a state legislative committee in May when, in the only vote ever taken by elected lawmakers on the issue, one legislator voted in favor of the measure and four voted against it.
The law began its journey through the approval process when racetracks and the Beshear administration sued no one and cleared its final hurdle on its way to implementation in June when another legislative committee decided to do nothing.
Welcome to democracy casino-style.
"Instant Racing" involves gambling on what are essentially slot machines that play videos of old races. The game has now been approved in a process that can only be described as bizarre. The arguments for it are equally bizarre.
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Instant Racing has been controversial because of questions about its legality under statute and Kentucky's Constitution. Only parimutuel gambling on horse races is allowed in the state, but Instant Racing does not involve real horse racing nor is it parimutuel.
The Beshear administration, in league with wealthy racetrack interests, has argued that watching videos of horse races — which, in many cases, feature horses long dead — is the same thing as watching an actual horse race.
When faced with questions about its curious reasoning, lawyers in the revenue department said such races can be considered "live" because they are live "in the minds of the viewers."
Will the revenue department accept that same reasoning by taxpayers, who, in their minds, might not think they owe taxes?
The arguments that Instant Racing is parimutuel are no better. In parimutuel wagering, wagerers bet against each other on the same race or group of races. Winners are paid from the wagering pool.
Instant Racing is different because patrons bet alone. There is no common race or group of races, no common wagers. Instead, there is only a video slot machine that patrons feed money. Even proponents had so much concern that they filed a lawsuit against no one seeking to have the game unilaterally declared legal.
Sound strange? It is.
But arguments have never played a terribly large role in the debates over expanded gambling in Kentucky. Rather, money and the political power that comes with it have been the preferred way for expanded-gambling advocates to get their way. The result has been a distortion of the democratic process.
The Beshear campaign was helped by hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from gambling interests.
It was also assisted by $2.2 million in gambling donations to a 527 organization that supported him. And $1 million came from one donor: Bill Yung, a casino magnate who recently lost his New Jersey license and is being sued by investors.
Reporters discovered from a Capitol sign-in log that Yung had visited Frankfort during the 2008 legislative session. The log mysteriously disappeared but, after investigative reports by several newspapers, it just as mysteriously reappeared.
In addition to dumping large amounts of money into local legislative races, wealthy racetracks such as Churchill Downs have invested hundreds of thousands in an army of high-priced lobbyists. Churchill Downs stands to gain millions from such legislation.
In 2010, legislative leaders in the state House engaged in a legal form of vote-buying by giving out earmarks to those legislators who would vote for their slots bill. Legislators were offered money for school buildings back home if they would vote for the bill, which became known as "Slots for Tots." Even then, it just squeaked by, dying in a Senate committee.
Now, the advocates of expanded gambling have finally met with success — but only by almost completely avoiding the scrutiny of elected lawmakers. They have used the regulation process, which was meant to implement laws passed by lawmakers.
But loopholes in the process have been exploited by the Beshear administration to push through a law that has had only one vote in the General Assembly: a committee vote of 4-to-1 against.
One track has been approved to install Instant Racing machines, but the issue is still in the courts. Only time will tell if the high-priced attorneys the state and the tracks have hired to make their arguments will ultimately prevail.