Handicapping skill is based on the ability to pick winners.
But in the current slugfest over approving slots at the state's racetracks, the tote board shows only losers.
David Williams lost.
The Senate president flexed his muscle on Monday and squashed the slots bill in Senate committee, a bill he opposes, by the way.
But Williams looked the lesser for keeping the bill from a full throat-clearing on the Senate floor. Given the Republican advantage there, the bill passed by the House on Friday probably would have perished anyway. What's the harm in allowing a free flow of ideas?
Gov. Steve Beshear and House Speaker Greg Stumbo both lost.
This was their baby, and the Democratic duo obviously did not spend enough time or effort currying public favor. The special session had a thrown-together feel, evident by Stumbo's last-minute attempt to bring school improvement into the equation.
Apparently, the entire plan was to stress the panic button. The sky is falling. That worked in the early bailout days, when the government claimed certain favored businesses were too big to let fail. That doesn't work now. This isn't a bailout, but the public sees it as one. So you'd better state your case. Effectively.
Horse racing lost.
But then horse racing seems to always lose in these matters. It's a sport that can't get out of its own way. Example: Last Friday's debut of night racing at Churchill Downs. Great idea. Awful execution. A crowd of nearly 30,000 showed up for some fun off Central Avenue. It encountered short staffing and long lines. Churchill Downs says it will do better next time. But you only get one chance to make a first impression.
Personally, I'm a slots skeptic. It's a short-term bandage over a long-term problem. Bottom line: The sport has lost its fan base, with no cohesive idea how to get it back. By pushing slots, the equine establishment is admitting the public doesn't like its product enough to sustain it financially, so it wants to add a different product.
And yet, shouldn't that be its call? If racetracks wish to cheapen their commodity — "A short-term gain and a long-term drain," as Arthur Hancock put it — let them.
The Thoroughbred industry is already in the gambling game. We already have a lottery in this state. How is adding slots to tracks any different than the State Lottery Commission adding a new scratch-off game at the corner stop-and-shop?
To be sure, people who have no business putting their money into slot machines will put their money into slot machines. But then a lot of people put their money into the stock market, too. (Ouch.)
Our legislature turned a legitimate issue, worthy of legitimate debate, into a political fumble. It's hard to know which is more dysfunctional, the game itself, or the entity asked to help fix it.
So in the end, the state could lose its brand, an asset that sets it apart. Even here, too many see racing as the sport of Kings and Sheikhs, not a $4 billion industry that employs more than 50,000 workers. And despite its efforts, the game hasn't done an effective job of altering that image.
But things do change. Nothing lasts forever. Ask General Motors. Or the newspaper industry. Competition is everywhere, so you'd better be ready to compete. And for Kentucky racing, competition could come from neighboring Ohio, if that state makes good on a proposal to pass a slots bill.
The day that River Downs offers bigger purses than Churchill Downs is a losing day indeed.
And no business can keep on losing. Not if it wants to remain in business.