Senate Bill 120 is a measure that recently passed within the Kentucky Senate. The bill seeks to legalize historical horse racing machines. These are games that are similar to casino slots. The machines have provided revenues for the horse racing industry in the state for many years and are at risk of shutting down permanently.
Moving the Bill Along
The new bill changes the definition of pari-mutuel wagering in the state and adds the machines as part of the definition. The Senate voted 22-15 in favor of the change. The measure will now move on to the House for consideration.
The need for the legislation came about after the state Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that the historical horse racing machines do not fall in line with legalized pari-mutuel racing. The horse race industry acted quickly after this ruling, requesting a change to ensure the games can continue to function. If they are shut down, it would harm not only the horse racing industry as a whole but also lead to significant job losses.
Of course, with any legislative change, there are those who are opposed. Critics of this decision say that the bill is unconstitutional. They say the machines can only be legalized with an amendment to the constitution. This process would require a state referendum and would not go into effect until late next year.
SB 120’s sponsor, Senator John Schickle, says that the legislation will support real jobs and families in the state. Without the games, facilities like Turfway Park would be at risk. This facility alone employees 1,400 individuals.
Senator Whitney Westerfield has a different opinion on the matter. Westerfield says that the government should not get in bed with an industry that requires people to lose for its to succeed. The Senator called gambling bad public policy and a predatory industry.
Back and Forth
When it came to the Senate vote, the republican members were split. Some were in favor, while others argued against the measure. Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer has been a strong supporter of the measure and said that Westerfield’s comments were class warfare and the work of the employees in the industry was ‘besmirched’.
Thayer stated in the meeting that if the bill is not passed at least three to four racetracks will close soon, possibly within this fiscal year. Then, what would the state do without the taxes these facilities are currently paying?
Senator Stephen Meredith is against the measure and stated in the hearing that legislators are being blackmailed to pass the bill with the threat of jobs being lost if the measure is not passed. Meredith pointed out the need for jobs in the state, but at what price?
The back and forth continued throughout the meeting, but a positive vote prevailed. After the announcement, Governor Andy Beshear stated he was pleased with the results. If the bill makes it to his desk, he will sign it. The governor pointed out the $15 million in annual revenues the state receives from the industry as the jobs it provides citizens.