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House leaders skeptical of Instant Racing

FRANKFORT — House leaders cast doubt Friday about the future of an expanded gambling bill that passed a Senate committee Thursday.

"I don't know what we're going to do with it," House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark said of the proposal to allow at racetracks a type of electronic gambling commonly called "Instant Racing." which lets bettors wager on random previously run horse races.

"The House leadership is going to talk to our caucus," said Clark, D-Louisville. "But if we're going to have expanded gambling, and the Senate is going to agree to that, then we ought to do slots which would really capture a lot of money. But right now we're in no hurry to look at it."

Clark said he would not take up the measure until after the House and Senate settle on a budget, which is expected to take several more weeks.

House Bill 368, which is expected to pass the Senate next week, originally contained a provision sponsored by Clark that would tax advanced wagering by phone or other electronic means at the state's race tracks. The Senate State and Local Government Committee added the Instant Racing provision Thursday in hopes of generating millions of dollars for purses for the horse industry.

However, the industry has lobbied heavily for the expansion of gambling at the state's racetracks through video lottery terminals, commonly called slot machines. The Republican-led Senate has consistently blocked allowing slots at tracks.

Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, and sponsor of the amended bill, said Friday that if the House tried to add video lottery terminals to the measure during negotiations to reconcile the two different versions of the bill, he would "walk out" of the conference committee.

Clark's bill originally proposed a 0.5 percent tax on bets that are wagered electronically from locations other than the track. Thayer upped the tax to 1.5 percent on advanced deposit wagering and all other wagering at tracks.

For Instant Racing, 81.5 percent of all the money wagered would go back to bettors in the form of winnings. Of the remainder, 1.5 percent would go to the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund or the Kentucky Standardbred Development Fund for purse supplements.

Thayer said earnings from Instant Racing could double the $5 million to $6 million a year in purse supplements now awarded to Kentucky-bred horses.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said he doubts the bill goes far enough to help the horse industry or the state's anemic coffers.

"I think that (video lottery terminals) are better for the state and better for the industry," Stumbo said.

Stumbo, who sponsored a bill to add slots under the state's lottery laws, said he wanted to talk to constituents who are opposed to the expansion of gambling.

"Some of our members have requested that we seek some opinions from some of the lobbying groups that have traditionally opposed any type of expanded gambling to see whether or not they consider that to be expanded gaming," Stumbo said. "If you put those two machines side by side, a slot machine and the machine that Sen. Thayer proposes, you can't tell them apart."

Say No To Casinos Spokesman Martin Cothran said his group believes mechanized gambling in any form is a threat to the long-term health of the horse industry.

He also questioned whether Instant Racing is really a "game of skill" as supporters claim. "Instant Racing requires about the same level of skill as it takes to select which slot machine you're going to play," Cothran said.

The game gives bettors a limited set of data about the horses in a previously run race that was chosen at random. The player then uses that information to choose a winner before watching at least the last 10 seconds of the race.

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