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Williams: Senate won't authorize Instant Racing

FRANKFORT — The Senate is expected to make a major change Wednesday in a bill of intense interest to Kentucky's horse industry.

Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, said Tuesday night that his chamber will remove "Instant Racing" — wagers on random, previously run horse races — from a House bill it is considering.

Instead, Williams said, the bill will require that if the governor or Kentucky Horse Racing Commission authorizes Instant Racing, a 1.5 percent tax on the wagering would go to increase track purses or incentives to breeders.

The change would allow the Republican-controlled Senate to sidestep a politically difficult vote on what some say is an expansion of gambling.

In effect, it would put the act of expanding gambling on the governor, who could issue an executive order for Instant Racing, or on the state racing commission, which could issue an administrative regulation for it.

Gov. Steve Beshear said through spokeswoman Kerri Richardson that he is not in a position to comment without seeing the changes the Senate plans for the bill.

Williams, who opposes expanded gambling, said he could support the Senate change. He noted that Attorney General Jack Conway has issued an opinion that said Instant Racing could be legalized with regulatory changes.

The bill in question is House Bill 368, sponsored by House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark, D-Louisville.

It originally contained a provision that would tax advanced wagering by phone or other electronic means at the state's race tracks. The Senate State and Local Government Committee last week added the Instant Racing provision to it in hopes of generating millions of dollars.

The action sparked criticism from Say No to Casinos, which maintained Instant Racing was an expansion of gambling. Spokesman Martin Cothran said his group thinks mechanized gambling in any form is a threat to the long-term health of the horse industry.

Williams said the Senate State and Local Government Committee, chaired by Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, will meet Wednesday to remove Instant Racing from the bill and put in the tax provision dealing with implementation of Instant Racing by the governor or racing commission.

After the Senate committee acts, Williams said, the full Senate will vote on the bill.

The bill "will not authorize instant races but will protect the position of the purses and incentive funds if such action is taken by the executive branch, which the attorney general's office said they could do," Williams said.

He noted that Instant Racing could be challenged in the courts by anyone who thinks it is an expansion of gambling.

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