By T. D. ThorntonThe bill to legalize historical horse race (HHR) gaming in Kentucky by defining “pari-mutuel wagering” to include previously run races passed in the House of Representatives by a 55-38 vote shortly after 8 p.m. on Thursday, with seven legislators not casting votes. Capping an emotional and contentious–but always civil–floor debate that stretched over three hours Feb. 11, the most controversial bill of the 2021 Kentucky legislative session now heads to Governor Andy Beshear, who has previously indicated support for keeping HHR intact in Kentucky. The passage of SB 120 this week by both the Senate and House clears the way–at least in the near term–for the continued operation of the 3,625 HHR machines at six licensed venues so they 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. But even as the issue was being debated, some legislators expressed a certainty while speaking from the House floor that the HHR vote was sure to be litigated in the courts, continuing a 10-year legal odyssey in the state over whether the slot machine-like gambling machines are legal under the state’s constitution.
Other representatives vowed to pursue changes to state law to make HHR’s continued operation more profitable for the state by filing legislation that would raise Kentucky’s tax on HHR higher than the current 1.5% of the handle.
This story will be updated.
INDUSTRY STATEMENTS FOR PASSING LEGISLATION TO SAVE HHR:
KEEPThe Kentucky Equine Education Project (KEEP), Kentucky’s equine economic advocate, released the following statement today following the Senate’s passage of Senate Bill 120:
“Thank you to our representatives in the House for acting in Kentuckians’ best interests and passing critical legislation to keep historical horse racing in the commonwealth. This is great news for the 1,400 people employed directly by historical horse racing and the tens of thousands more who rely on the horse industry to provide for their families.
“The Supreme Court’s ruling on HHR last year brought major uncertainty to our employees, local businesses, communities and our industry as a whole. We applaud the General Assembly for acting swiftly to maintain the status quo of historical horse racing that the Kentucky has known for the last 10 years. With the passage of SB 120, we are confident about the future of Kentucky racing and our ability to continue bringing new jobs and economic growth to our communities across the commonwealth.
“Gov. Beshear has been vocal in his support of historical horse racing and its positive impacts on our state, and we look forward to seeing SB 120 signed into law.”
KENTUCKY TRACKS: CHURCHILL DOWNS, KEENELAND, ELLIS, RED MILE, KENTUCKY DOWNS“On behalf of our team members, our horsemen and all of the citizens of the Commonwealth who earn their pay checks directly or indirectly from the horse industry, we applaud the Kentucky House of Representatives for the passage today of SB 120. The future of the Commonwealth’s signature industry and those who support it is secure. We had extensive discussions with Governor Beshear and given his longstanding and unwavering support of the horse industry, we anticipate that he will sign SB 120 into law.
“We express our profound gratitude to bill sponsor Senator Schickel, President Stivers and Minority Leader McGarvey of the Kentucky Senate and Speaker Osbourne and Minority Leader Jenkins of the Kentucky House of Representatives for their leadership in securing SB 120’s passage in the General Assembly.
“On behalf of the Commonwealth’s race tracks, we also confirm and reiterate our discussions with Governor Beshear, Minority Leader McGarvey and Minority Leader Jenkins that we will work constructively to revise and raise the tax structure on historical racing machines, including consideration of a fair and equitable graduated tax structure. We look forward to those discussions in the near term and confirm our commitment to the Commonwealth to build on our tax and job base through sound capital investments and good corporate citizenship.”
J DAVID RICHARDSON, BILL LANDES, DELL HANCOCK, DOUG HENDRICKSON, BRAXTON LYNCH & BEN HUFFMAN“We commend the tireless effort and professionalism of the KTA-KTOB’s Director, Chauncey Morris, in helping secure the passage of Historical Horse through racing remediation in both the Kentucky State Senate and the Kentucky House of Representatives. Chauncey has worked effectively in mobilizing his Board members to work with other industry representatives to educate about the vital importance of HHR. We look forward to his continued service in the years to come.”