This piece is respectfully submitted by Martin Cothran Senior Policy Analyst of The Family Foundation.
The so-called “historical horse racing” slots bill was passed by the Kentucky General Assembly. It was marketed as a bill that would protect the horse industry. In reality, it was an unconstitutional millionaire’s stimulus bill that, far from saving the horse industry, will ultimately replace it.
The legislation was in response to a unanimous 7-0 ruling by the Kentucky Supreme Court that the machines were not pari-mutuel in the way they operated and therefore illegal.
In response, the legislature, ignoring the Court’s criteria for what constitutes pari-mutuel wagering, simply wrote a new definition for pari-mutuel wagering, one not shared by anyone outside Kentucky.
Lawmakers didn’t address the problems with the bill opponents had pointed out. Instead, it ignored them, and rather than the horse tracks and their allies on the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission changing their actions to bring them into alignment with the law, lawmakers simply changed the law to suit a very wealthy and influential special interest.
But while arguments mattered in the legal system, other things mattered in the legislature — money and power matter. There slot machine advocates were able to deploy no less than sixty-two high-priced lobbyists to make their case, a case made more attractive in some cases by campaign contributions.
Supporters of this legislation argued that they were trying to create revenue for the state and save the horse industry. But while the state has received only about $57 million – only .13 percent of the General Fun, around $750 million has gone into the pockets of a small oligarchy of wealthy racing and casino interests. One of them, Churchill Downs, is worth over $8.3 billion, and the stock value of which has increased by over 1800 percent over the last ten years of the court proceedings.
There are people in this state who are hurting financially because of the pandemic. There are people all over the service industry who could use a stimulus check.
But Churchill Downs, whose CEO makes over $10 million a year, does not need a stimulus check. But they’re going to get one now.
One day, when slot parlors have spread across the state, players will look up from the machines and see pictures on the walls of the old days, when they used to race horses.
The horse industry made a deal with the Devil. And that’s never a good bargain.