Just hours after the Kentucky Senate approved legislation that would protect historical horse racing in the state, a Kentucky House committee advanced the bill to its floor.
In the first committee meeting of the day Feb. 10, the House Licensing and Occupations Committee approved Senate Bill 120. The committee is chaired by Rep. Adam Koenig, a Republican from Erlanger who supports legislation that protects HHR.
In voicing his support for the legislation, committee member Rep. Matthew Koch (Republican, Paris) outlined studies that have shown the strong economic impact that HHR has brought to Kentucky’s economy.
The legislation now goes to the House Floor where a close vote is expected. During Wednesday’s committee meeting, Rep. Alan Gentry (Democrat, Louisville), a supporter of the legislation, said that progress has been made in garnering support for the legislation. He noted that pushback is coming from lawmakers who oppose gambling in general as well as lawmakers who have constitutional concerns and others who believe HHR is not taxed enough and that more funds should go to the state.
As sponsor of the legislation on the Senate side, Sen. John Schickel, a Republican from Union who chairs the Senate Licensing and Occupations Committee that advanced the legislation Feb. 4, opened Wednesday’s meeting with a statement outlining his support. He noted that a Kentucky Supreme Court decision in September that found at least one brand of HHR was not pari-mutuel, called on legislators to update the definition of pari-mutuel wagering if the general assembly wished for HHR to continue in the state.
Sen. Schickel noted that his bill meets that call and will protect jobs in both the industry and beyond.
Horseman Tom Drury outlined the many businesses that benefit from racing and breeding in the state and he also noted the significant commitments track owners have made to their facilities that benefit horses like an equine medical center and quarantine facility at Churchill Downs and a new surface at Turfway Park.
Keeneland trustee Bill Lear noted that the legislation is not an expansion of gaming in the state but only maintains the standard that has been in place for 10 years.
Opponents of the bill suggested it effectively is a handout to rich track owners, unconstitutional, and will lead to more problem gamblers. Speaking in opposition of HHR was Stan Cave, general counsel of the Family Foundation, argued that Senate Bill 120 is unconstitutional, noting a number of court victories it’s had.
Making a point through a question to Cave, Koenig outlined that current regulations in place guarantee that not just tracks benefit from HHR, but horsemen and the state as well. Sen. Schickel noted that the increased purses have led to increased competition, increased participation, and increased jobs and economic impact.
One concern opponents have voiced about HHR is that its overseen by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, which is not subject to the executive branch’s ethics commission. Rep. Koenig said Wednesday that that concern would be addressed.