|By FRAN DUNDON
FRANKFORT, Ky. — In a Sept. 16 press conference on the lower steps of the State Capitol, the Kentucky Equine Education Project (KEEP), with the full blessing of its board of directors, announced its plan to seek a referendum to allow racetracks to operate full casino gaming.
Members of KEEP believe this is the “right approach at the right time.”
The official KEEP position is, “In the interest of preserving Kentucky’s equine heritage and strengthening the state’s economy, KEEP supports a voter referendum to amend the state constitution to allow for full casino gaming for those holding licenses to operate racetracks in Kentucky. KEEP supports earmarking significant and quantified gaming tax revenues for education, healthcare, local development funding and preserving the environment.”
A full compliment of statewide equine associations, and representatives from Churchill Downs, Keeneland, Red Mile and Turfway Park, stood in unison behind the podium as the announcement was delivered by KEEP’s Executive Director Jim Navolio. Also represented in support of this effort were the Louisville, Northern Kentucky and Paducah chambers of commerce and other organizations outside the horse industry.
“Being the Horse Capital of the World doesn’t come without challenges,” Navolio said. “The equine industry faces increased competition from other horse states that are continuing to build their equine industries, which has a direct economic impact on the vitality of our own industry. And we, the horse industry and the entire Commonwealth, compete with surrounding states, which have casino gaming that lures away vital revenues from Kentucky.”
Former Kentucky Gov. Brereton C. Jones (1991-95), owner of Airdrie Stud Horse Farm, serves as KEEP’s chairman.
“This plan was built with support from a great cross-section of horse people from every breed,” Jones added. “We did not put it together in haste.”
Jones also relayed that all counties of Kentucky would benefit from the revenues generated because the plan will benefit parts of the state that do not get casinos.
The whole idea of casinos at racetracks has been around for quite some time. Through KEEP’s work, this renewed push appears to be moving forward with broad and unified support from the horse industry and its grassroots constituency in all of Kentucky’s 120 counties.
Under the KEEP plan, eight tracks would be eligible for full casino gaming because they hold licenses to operate racetracks in Kentucky. However, before the first casino can be christened, legislative action must be taken to get a vote for a constitutional amendment on a statewide ballot.
“We believe very strongly that every Kentuckian has the right to be heard on this issue,” Jones said. “Our position is nonproliferation on gambling. We do not want to see Kentucky become another Las Vegas. That’s not our plan.”
KEEP supports the notion of conducting gaming under the control of racetracks because that would stop gambling from spreading.
“If this whole thing is not fair, and if it doesn’t create more jobs and help more people, not talking about the horse industry by itself but the entire state, then quite frankly I won’t be for it,” Jones said.
While the overall theme of the KEEP plan has been disseminated, the details will be forthcoming when developed.
So far, no legislator has stepped up to the plate to sponsor the legislation; however, early indications are that some are amenable.
Gov. Ernie Fletcher is on record as saying he would not be oppose a referendum, but he would not support it either.
Kentucky faces a severe budget scenario and its citizens stand to gain increased revenues resulting from this initiative – conservatively estimated to be between $400-$450 million, with gross receipts estimated to be anywhere from $800 million to $1.2 billion according to Navolio.
“Our state needs increased revenues to keep some vital programs in operation and to keep our cities and counties vibrant,” said Navolio. “The KEEP Plan addresses those needs at a critical time. Otherwise alternative solutions, such as tax increases or fees, will have to be considered.”
Formed in May 2004, KEEP is an organization that represents the interests of all horse people from every breed. It has experienced rapid growth in membership and expected to be 10,000 strong before the end of December 2005.
According to the KEEP website, its mission is, “To build broad based education and grassroots initiatives to increase awareness of the benefits of Kentucky’s horse economy and to promote jobs and economic opportunities for Kentuckians through the Commonwealth’s world-class horse industry.”
A secondary mission is to work with lawmakers to make Kentucky more competitive for business – for the state as well as the horse industry.
For additional information, visit www.horseswork.com; call toll-free at 1-866-771-KEEP (5337); or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in the September 28, 2005 issue of Farm World.