Members of the conservative advocacy group The Family Foundation on Wednesday relied on a host of laws and court opinions, telling representatives of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission the panel doesn't have the right to implement a type of expanded betting at the state's racetracks.
That line of argument was in stark contrast to the emotional pleas to help a struggling industry that came from the crowd of about a hundred members of the horse industry at the commission's public hearing at The Red Mile.
At issue is what's called "instant racing," or betting on previously run horse races. The game, which has been credited with raising revenues at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas, doesn't tell bettors the names of horses or the racetracks when they bet, but they are given access to some information about the horses' past performance. Even though machines offer betting on separately selected races, the payout pool is collective, so the money builds up until a winner hits.
Stan Cave, an attorney for The Family Foundation, said betting on "historical races" is not allowed by state law because "it is not wagering on the outcome of a future ... event."
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"The race occurred in the past. Both horses are now dead. There is no mutuel pool of wagers or wagerers," he said. "This is nothing more than a clever play on words in an attempt to expand casino-style gambling in Kentucky."
He noted that a bill to allow instant racing failed to pass the General Assembly. The commission, he said, has overstepped its bounds by stating that instant racing is a pari-mutuel wagering product and as such, it has the authority to regulate it.
In an effort to forestall anticipated legal challenges, the commission, along with the eight tracks in the state and the state Department of Revenue, asked Franklin Circuit Court to rule on the legality of implementing the games. The Family Foundation, which opposes expanded gambling, has intervened in the case.
"It's a David-and-Goliath thing," said Family Foundation spokesman Martin Cothran. "Every time we show up with our one attorney, they're able to match it with about 14."
However, it wasn't lawyers but passionate people employed in the industry who spoke Wednesday.
"We need a fair and equitable arrangement so the state of Kentucky can compete with other states," said equine veterinarian Andy Roberts, who paused and choked up at times. "If it gets to the point where there is nothing left in the horse business, I can tell you what will happen to me. ...
"The last hundred bucks in my pocket will fuel my truck to go to Indiana, where I don't want to live."
John Greathouse, who has a family farm in Midway with his brothers, said instant racing is a way to help people like himself "make a living in the state."
"The people who don't want it, like The Family Foundation, don't know or don't care," he said.
Kent Ostrander, head of the group, said that's not the case and noted that even those in the room once opposed plans like this.
"In the early '90s, there were a number of you in this room that gave several thousands of dollars to The Family Foundation, so that we would stand with you against ... expanded gambling in other states and this state, and we did so faithfully," he said. "From our perspective, we haven't changed, but the horse industry seems to have.
"What I mean by that, and I don't mean to be flippant, but there's an expression, 'If you can't beat them, join them.' From our perspective, that's what's happened here. We're still standing where we were in the early 1990s."
Despite the passion of those in the industry supporting it, tracks are worried that instant racing won't draw many more players away from casinos' slots or tables. Churchill Downs estimated earlier this summer that the expanded option would add only $2 million to $3 million annually to the Louisville track's purses.