Kentucky horsemen have argued that casino earnings at racetracks should… (Thomas E. Witte / For The…)
Reporting from Atlanta — Kentucky has historically -- and famously -- been racehorse country. It hasn't traditionally been casino country.
That may soon change, now that a proposed constitutional amendment to allow casinos in the state appears headed to a full vote of the state Senate.
What remains unclear is whether the casino amendment will end up hurting or helping the horse-racing business, the state's signature industry and one deeply tied to Kentucky's mythic sense of self.
The bill, which has the backing of Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, could be voted on by the Senate as early as Thursday -- although there are some calls to delay the vote. The measure would eventually go to voters for approval on the November ballot, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.
As originally drafted, the bill would have guaranteed that five of the seven casinos would be located at racetracks. This was a key provision to many in the racing and horse-breeding world who have argued that casino earnings at racetracks should be used to beef up racing purses.
As the Los Angeles Times reported in 2008, that strategy has been implemented in a number of states, including California, in an effort to keep horse racing viable in an age of expanded gambling choices.
But Herald-Leader reporter Janet Patton writes that the current version of the bill has been amended to remove the guarantee that five of the casinos would be at racetracks. And Republican Sen. Damon Thayer, the sponsor of the bill, said he wants to amend the bill to remove a provision that prohibits free-standing casinos within 60 miles of racetracks.
Patton reported that the governor believes the horse-racing industry will be protected by the bill. Beshear also said he believes Kentuckians want casinos to be within "the areas where we already have gambling," i.e., racetracks.
The idea is not without critics, including Kentucky's Roman Catholic bishops, and Sen. Dan Seum, a Republican from Louisville, who said that racetracks shouldn't be given a "monopoly" on casino gambling.
The horse-racing industry isn't just a symbolic matter. One study from the mid-1990s showed that the sport generated more than 30,000 Kentucky jobs.
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