Some people think that with enough money and influence you can convince anybody of anything. The horse racing industry certainly has plenty of both. The stock price of Churchill Downs alone increased by well over 1300% during the last 10 years of so-called “Historical Horse Racing” court case.
With that kind of money, you can hire high-priced lobbyists to try and try to convince legislators that the up is down, that white is black, and that the state’s richest industry needs a taxpayer-funded bailout.
That’s what the horse industry and its lobbyists are now doing: Trying to convince state lawmakers that all they have to do to counteract a recent 7-0 Kentucky Supreme Court decision declaring historic racing not pari-mutuel (and therefore illegal) is to simply pass a statutory law saying otherwise.
That dog won’t hunt.
The state’s High Court found that “historic horse racing” machines are essentially slot machines. That didn’t come as a surprise to gamblers who play them because, in fact, they look and act like—and the Court now has said actually are—slot machines.
Legislators are being told that the definition of “pari-mutuel” simply needs to be “tweaked” and the horse racing industry can go on its merry and very lucrative way bilking gamblers in defiance of the state’s Constitution.
The Court laid down five necessary criteria for what constitutes pari-mutuel wagering in Kentucky, and that historic racing doesn’t qualify under two of them. So how exactly does the racing industry propose to “tweak” the law? Well, apparently not by paying attention to the Court and the Constitution.
The General Assembly has two honest options in regard to historic horse racing. The first is to pass a statutory bill that writes into law all five of the Court’s criteria for pari-mutuel wagering. The reason the racing industry doesn’t want to do that is that it knows historic racing can’t meet these criteria--because it is not really pari-mutuel.
The other option is to pass a Constitutional amendment on the issue and place it before voters in 2022. But they don’t want to do that because that would require more votes to pass. And since they are rich and influential, they should not have to abide by the same requirements as everyone else who tries to pass a law that violates the Constitution.
So instead, they are going to do the dishonest thing. They are going to try pass a statutory bill simply declaring historic racing pari-mutuel.
The question is, are they going to succeed? Republicans are in control of both chambers of the legislature. To pass the horse industry’s bill, they will have to garner a majority in the Republican caucuses of both the House and the Senate. But how does a Party that claims to be constitutionalist pass legislation that ignores the Constitution?
It’s hard to see it could happen. But despite the fact that Kentucky state government gets little of the money from historic racing slot machines, for the horse racing industry, it’s a gravy train. The industry has a lot of money and influence to throw their weight around.
Martin Cothran is a Senior Policy Analyst for The Family Foundation.