Opinion: By Martin Cothran, Senior Policy Analyst for The Family Foundation
The gambling bill in the 2019 Session is dead, but the corruptive influence of the gambling industry never dies.
In early February, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported that a prominent veterinary practice working for Keeneland Corporation had falsified horse X-rays designed to guarantee the health of the horses sold at Keeneland’s annual yearling auction, according to a lawsuit. In late March, the story garnered national attention when the Wall Street Journal ran its own story on the controversy.
The yearling sale, the horse racing industry’s biggest glamour event, is where the rich and famous from all over the world gather to buy horses for prices as high as $2 million a head. A representative from the Soros Fund was there this year, as was Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
But as it turned out, the medical reports on the horses for which these buyers have been laying down large stacks of cash, may have been, well, doctored.
Horse racing is Kentucky’s premier professional sport, and the only one in which gambling is legally allowed. Because there’s a lot of money on the line, anything can happen—from performance-enhancing drugs, to fixed races, to bribery. Organized crime’s ties to the sport are legendary, and corruption has long characterized many aspects of the sport.
When so much money is on the line, this is probably to be expected.
In the Kentucky General Assembly session, that ended March 28, a bill (HB 175), was introduced to legalize gambling on all sports in the state.
In the first version of the bill, it wasn’t restricted to sports and included wagering on the Oscars and Emmys, and included betting on college sports with the exception of games in which Kentucky teams were playing. One wonders about the ethics of sparing our own student sports teams from the potential corruption of gambling while helping to perpetrate it elsewhere.
The bill mustered only a committee vote, but when it did, every member of the House Licensing and Occupations Committee voted in favor of it. (And there was one “pass.”)
How does that happen? There is actually a simple explanation. The committee was “stacked.” That’s a direct quote from the bill sponsor. “We stacked this committee with people who believe in this stuff,” the legislator who introduced the bill told Mike Fussell, a reporter for WAVE 3 News.
If this had happened on any other legislation, there would be an outcry.
The representative who admitted this “stacking” is not a corrupt person; he was just being honest. But this is what this issue does to people’s expectations. Corruption is so ingrained in the culture of gambling that we are willing to lower the normal expectations for proper procedure and legislative integrity.
In a session several years ago, the House leadership had insufficiently stacked the committee that was going to vote on a gambling bill, so in the dark of the night before the committee meeting, they kicked off the legislator who was going to vote “No” on the bill (Dottie Sims) and replaced her with one who would vote “Yes.”
The day after the shenanigans came to light, The Family Foundation (using organized crime metaphors commensurate with House Leadership’s actions), issued a press release titled, “Dottie Sims sleeps with the fishes.” It was delivered to the offices of House and Senate members—until Democratic staff members who controlled the Chamber at that time happened to read it, at which point they tried to go and retrieve them.
But they didn’t get them all.
It was ironic that, as HB 175 was dying a slow death in the House, a 60 Minutes expose of sports racing debuted on CBS. It interviewed Mike Hamrick, the athletics director at Marshal University in West Virginia, a state which has recently legalized sports gambling. He feared what it would do to the integrity of sports. “No one can tell you that they are dealing with this and be 100 percent clean.”
He ought to know. Hamrick was athletics director at University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
HB 175 is dead. But in the corrupt world of gambling, things don’t stay dead. They keep coming back . . . with more money and the power money can buy behind them. Sports wagering will be back next year. In the meantime, we need to tell our lawmakers that if the state needs money, there are less corrupt ways to generate it.