Once again, the Kentucky State Senate, under the leadership of Sen. President David Williams, found a way to deny the citizens of Kentucky a chance to vote for an expanded gambling bill that would help the states' horse racing industry.
In a 21-16 vote on the Senate floor on Thursday, Feb. 23, the Republican-controlled Kentucky Senate killed the proposed bill that would have let citizens of the state to vote on a constitutional amendment in November that would have allowed casino wagering in the state.
Sen. Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown) had crossed party lines to work with Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear to help put the bill together.
However, according to a Thoroughbred Times article on Thursday, Feb. 23, “Sen. President David Williams (R-Burkesville), who lost a lopsided gubernatorial election to Beshear in November, again led the charge against the bill. The signs were ominous when Thayer said he would have preferred to delay Thursday’s vote, but it was clear that there were not enough votes in support of passing over the issue to another day. Thayer said, knowing that, he decided to proceed and introduced the legislation.”
According to Thayer, polls show that between 80-87 percent of the people in the state have said they would like to vote on this issue.
“It is my wish as a sponsor of the bill to put this issue to rest by putting it on the ballot,” Thayer said.
The bill, according to the article, was introduced despite the absence of Sen. Gerald Neal (D-Louisville), a co-sponsor of the bill, who had a previously planned business trip and could not be present for the vote. Normally, this type of delay is a courtesy and would be automatic, but Williams would not allow it this time.
Gov. Beshear issued a statement after the vote noting that some Republicans, who had said they would vote yes, chose to vote no. However, the governor remains optimistic for the future.
“Obviously, I am disappointed that several of the senators who had publicly said they would support letting the people decide did not follow through on their commitment to our citizens," he said, according to a Feb. 23, 2012 article in BloodHorse.com. "I am also disappointed that Sen. Williams chose to sabotage the chance for our citizens to decide by scheduling the vote for today, when he knew that a senator who planned to vote 'yes' would not be in town.
"However, for the very first time, we were able to get this issue considered by the state Senate, and I appreciate the bipartisan cooperation of Sen. Thayer and others, which allowed that to happen. This is a good omen for the future of expanded gaming in our state, and I look forward to continuing to work with the legislature to address this issue.”
Expanded gambling has been an issue in Kentucky for many nears now. It passed the State House a few years ago, but Williams, who has almost single-handedly blocked expanded gambling in Kentucky, would not even allow it to come to a vote in the Senate at that time.
What is ironic is that during Williams’s run for Governor of Kentucky last year, it was discovered that he had reported gambling losses of $36,147 between 1999 and 2002, which he acknowledged came from gambling at tracks and casinos, according to an April 2, 2011 article in the Lexington Herald-Leader.
Those casinos, most probably, were some of the ones right across the Kentucky border. In essence, he was willing to gamble right outside of his own state, but will not allow gambling in his own state.
His reasoning comes in a somewhat hypocritical statement in the Herald-Leader article, in which he said, “I firmly believe that an expansion of gambling is not in the best interest of the people of Kentucky.”
It’s good enough for his best interest, but it’s not okay to allow the people of Kentucky to decide their own fate and the fate of their own horse racing industry, which is what has allowed Kentucky to be considered the “Horse Capital of the World.”
It should be noted that in the same article, it was reported that he has said that he has not gone to any casinos for several years.
Of course, while expanded gambling is not the universal fix-all for the Kentucky horse racing industry, or horse racing in general in the United States, at this time, it would at least allow Kentucky’s horse racing industry to compete on a level playing field with the other states surrounding it that already have expanded gambling.
Instead, thanks to Williams and his Senate pals, Kentucky will continue to lose more of its horses, more its breeding industry and more if its thoroughbred horse racing heritage to other states.
Two cases in point...
* WinStar Farm, in a partnership with Vinery, has sent Bluegrass Cat to Sugar Maple Farm in Poughquag, New York, for the 2012 breeding season next year. According to BloodHorse, Bluegrass Cat is ranked on its New York-sire list as the 2011 No. 3 sire in New York.
In a September 30, 2012 article in the Thoroughbred Times, Elliott Walden, WinStar President and Chief Executive Officer, said, “We're ready to make a big splash in New York. It's a market we've looked at with great interest for some time now because of the unlimited potential. Going into New York with a top-caliber stallion like Bluegrass Cat, and partnering with an established forerunner in New York like Vinery, fit the bill for us.”
While expanded gambling in Kentucky was not mentioned specifically as the reason for moving Bluegrass Cat to New York, this is the type of move that will begin to happen more and more without some type of assistance to the horse racing industry.
* Trainer Ken McPeak has moved a large portion of his horses out of Kentucky and up to Belmont Park in Elmont, New York, because of the expanded gaming revenue that New York will now make thanks to a new casino being opened at Aqueduct. He began moving his horses last year, and has continued to move more this year.
In an August 15, 2011 BloodHorse.com article, McPeak said, “Thanks to the VLTs going into Aqueduct and the uncertain state of racing in Kentucky beyond Keeneland and Churchill, I’ve brought some New York-breds and I have several coming to me. It’s a necessity. New York racing will be stronger thanks to the changes they’ve made, the expanded gaming and the purses at Turfway are too small. We can’t stay at a high level by going to Turfway in September. It’s unfortunate, but that’s a fact.”
McPeak also said in the article that some of his “top-flight runners – horses like Kathmanblu, Noble’s Promise and Rogue Romance – could soon join the string in New York.”
“Those horses need to be at an ‘A’ circuit,” he said. "We’ll leave a division up in New York to run at Belmont and Aqueduct, and continue on to Keeneland as we have in the past. I’m excited.”
In addition to those two cases, many other farms are starting to send some of their stallions out of state for breeding seasons, and for racing at other tracks because the breeding incentives are higher and the purses are higher.
“The clear fact is that Kentucky’s horse industry is operating at a severe competitive disadvantage,” said Patrick Neely, executive director of the Kentucky Equine Education Project in that same Lexington Herald-Leader article previously mentioned.
Neely says that Kentucky has lost horses, breeding stock and race dates at tracks, as other states have used money from expanded gambling to boost purses and incentive funds for breeders.
No question, without expanded gambling in Kentucky, more and more Thoroughbred farms and horses will begin to move out of the state, much like the Standardbred horse racing industry did years ago. And, if that happens, the blame will lie solely at the feet of Williams and the Republicans in the Kentucky State Senate.
It all makes you wonder if Williams has thought that far ahead about what he is doing. Does he realize that his Senate legacy might just end up being that he helped kill the horse racing industry in Kentucky; that he just might be the person that ended Kentucky’s ability to say that it is the “Horse Capital of the World.”
Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012, was definitely a sad day for the Thoroughbred industry in Kentucky thanks to this latest vote by the Kentucky State Legislature. Great job Mr. Williams. I hope you are proud of yourself.
For the record (http://www.lrc.ky.gov/record/12RS/SB151/vote_history.pdf)
SB 151 – Bill which would have allowed Kentuckians to vote on a constitutional amendment which would have allowed casino wagering in the Commonwealth.
Senate vote: 21 no – 16 yes (Bill needed 23 yes votes to pass Senate)
Voting Record on the Bill
Harper Angel (D-Louisville)
McGaha (R-Russell Springs)
Wilson (R-Bowling Green)
Did Not Vote
(Information for this article gathered from BloodHorse.com, Thoroughbred Times and the Lexington Herald-Leader.)