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Horse group suggests local-option on slots

The board of the Kentucky Equine Education Project, a horse industry lobbying group, vowed Monday to continue its fight for expanded gambling after discussing a variety of legislative options, including local-option elections.

"We're going to save the horse industry and fight until it's done," said former Gov. Brereton Jones, chairman of KEEP and owner of Airdrie Stud, in an interview afterward.

The board voted unanimously to redouble efforts at membership and voter registration, but it did not take action on a specific legislative strategy now that efforts have stalled to remove Republican Senate President David Williams, who opposes expanded gambling.

However, several alternatives were explored. Among them: amending the state's lottery law to permit local-option referenda on allowing video lottery terminals, or slot machines, in counties where there are racetracks.

"We're willing to let the people vote on it like you vote on a 'wet/dry' issue. That could be done quickly," Jones said.

He said the board did not discuss pursuing a compromise on a proposed constitutional amendment filed by Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown. The racetracks have said they oppose that amendment because it would require a statewide vote as well as local ones, and the tracks would have to compete with other bidders for the casinos.

Thayer said Monday that he doesn't see Jones' proposal going anywhere. "I don't think it's constitutional to have casino-style gambling unless the constitution is amended," he said.

Still, Jones said, the local option might be another way "to let the people's voice be heard in the county where gambling already takes place at a racetrack. ... It shouldn't, in my opinion, make any difference to the people of Paducah if there's VLTs at Churchill Downs. But let the people of Jefferson County cast the vote as to whether or not they want VLTs in their county."

He said KEEP has not taken a position on the idea.

Sen. Tim Shaughnessy, D-Louisville, said the idea largely addresses concerns about letting people vote on the issue. "If you want to reach out and find common ground, I think Governor Jones has provided a path that might lead there," he said.

However, opponents of casino-style gambling immediately dismissed any talk of compromising on a constitutional amendment.

"We don't understand what it is about 'let's do this constitutionally' that KEEP doesn't understand," said Martin Cothran, spokesman for Say No to Casinos. That it will take too long is "not a good enough excuse to bypass the constitution."

Another possibility the KEEP board is pursing: "Instant Racing," an electronic slot-machine-type game in which bettors make pari-mutuel wagers based on the outcome of instant "reruns" of randomly selected horse races.

Thayer has asked Attorney General Jack Conway for an opinion on whether it is legal for Kentucky racetracks to add the machines, which are in use at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas. Thayer said Monday that he has not received the opinion but has drafted legislation to allow the games if it's necessary.

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