Tuesday, February 9, 2021 at 5:06 pm | Back to: Top News Updated: February 9, 2021 at 5:07 pm By T. D. Thornton The “emergency” bill to legalize historical horse race (HHR) gaming by defining “pari-mutuel wagering” to include previously run races passed the Kentucky State Senate late Tuesday afternoon 22-15, with one senator not Kentcasting a vote. Proponents of the bill are aiming to align HHR in a way that they believe will make it constitutionally legal so the machines can keep generating $2.2. billion in annual handle. The Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund's purse-money cut from HHR is three-quarters of 1% of that handle. Senators speaking in favor of SB 120 focused their arguments primarily on the economic advantages of maintaining HHR, whose status quo has fueled the state's racing renaissance over the past decade. Proponents also framed part of the debate as “class warfare,” and said keeping HHR intact would be Kentucky's best bet to protect its signature horse racing and breeding industry. Another argument was that keeping HHR legal and limited to racetrack-related licensees would avoid any infiltration of big casinos in a state known for conservative opposition to expanding gambling. Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown) objected to what he termed as “pejorative” descriptions of gamblers and racetrackers by the bill's opponents, and made the dire prediction that “three or four” Kentucky racetracks could close within the next fiscal year if senators didn't advance the HHR bill. Opponents hit repeatedly on what they described as the non-constitutionality of HHR, the moral ills of gambling, and how the racing industry knew 10 years ago it was building a figurative house atop “quicksand” because of the murky legality over HHR. Even senators who expressed neutrality on embracing the new pari-mutuel definition of HHR had strong opinions about its future: One believed the racing industry's cries for help over the need for HHR amounted to a form of “blackmail.” Another said he was in favor of keeping HHR legal so long as the state enacted separate legislation to tax it at a higher rate. Yet a third said this issue would eventually have to be decided by Kentucky residents by voting on a constitutional amendment. SB120 now advances to the Kentucky House of Representatives. This story will be updated. Not a subscriber? Click here to sign up for the daily PDF or alerts. This story was posted in Top News and tagged Damon Thayer, Historical Horse Racing Gaming, Kentucky State Senate, SB120.
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