The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission wants to allow bets on previously run “historical races” at the state’s racetracks — another effort to boost the struggling industry in the self-proclaimed horse capital of the world.
The panel voted Tuesday to modify its regulations to let tracks accept pari-mutuel bets on rebroadcasts of the old races, stripped of the names of the horses, jockeys and trainers. Handicappers would be given limited information in their programs.
Racing commission chairman Robert Beck called the decision an opportunity for struggling tracks to bring in more revenue. The commission has asked the Franklin Circuit Court to review whether the proposed modifications are legal.
“I think it’s certainly a plus for the horse racing industry,” Beck said. “It’s an action we feel like we can take to support the industry. It’s not a Panacea. There’s still other things we need to do to make ourselves competitive with other jurisdictions.”
Racing in Kentucky has sagged recently as trainers and owners have taken their horses to neighboring states like Indiana and West Virginia where purses are buoyed by expanded gaming such as slot machines.
Racing proponents have lobbied for expanded gaming at state tracks for years, but the move to put the issue to the voters has been consistently blocked in the state legislature.
Gov. Steve Beshear called the proposal a step toward helping Kentucky tracks off er a more exciting product.
“The regulations will provide an additional tool that Kentucky horse racing tracks can use to draw people to their venue, to supplement purses and to assist horsemen who are struggling but want to race in Kentucky,” he said.
Turfway Park president Robert Elliston, whose track has been forced to cut live racing dates because of a lack of quality horses, cited the success of Instant Racing in Arkansas as proof that the model works.
“It’s not a widely deployed type of game but it has been very successful in Arkansas and has added significant amounts of money to its purse structure,” he said. “Technology is evolving and we’re willing to give it a shot.”
Instant Racing debuted at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas a decade ago. The track now has 400 Instant Racing terminals which generate $3.5 million in purse money every year according to Oaklawn vice president Louis Cella.
“It’s turned us around,” Cella said. “Take away Instant Racing we are just like Kentucky today. That’s the reality. That’s how important that is to Oaklawn.”
There is no timetable on when the proposed regulation could go into effect. There will be time for public comment and the commission is anticipating a challenge from Kentucky anti-gambling groups.
Kent Ostrander, executive director of The Family Foundation of Kentucky, called the move an effort by “the gambling industry and the government to try once again to get more money out of the people of Kentucky.”
The proposed modifications would classify Instant Racing as another form of pari-mutuel betting and not a casino-type game, a move Ostrander said is simply the state trying to maneuver around established guidelines.
“If they’re just changing the administrative regulations with a new definition, they are simply manipulating the law just like they’ve tried to manipulate the legislature to get their way,” he said.
Rick Hiles, president of the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, has spent the last decade watching a slow exodus of owners and trainers leaving Kentucky for more lucrative opportunities. He’s optimistic Instant Racing could help reverse the trend.
“We’re just hopeful that it will take off and it will be keep us from dying anyway,” he said.