Thursday, June 04, 2009

Dragging it out of Jack Conway

Attorney General Jack Conway has been able to slink along quietly while the rest of Frankfort wrestles over what to do about horse racing in Kentucky.

Conway is sitting on two requests for an AG opinion about expanded gambling at horse tracks. Rep. Jody Richards asked in May if slots at the tracks need a constitutional amendment. Sen. Damon Thayer asked in April if instant racing machines were permissible under current law.

Conway, a candidate for U.S. Senate, may be hesitant to take a position that damages his political aspirations in a tough primary contest.

So we are left with Gov. Steve Beshear's slots bill, Sen. David Williams' proposal that deserves credit as an interesting alternative, and the strong likelihood neither will pass in this month's special session.

Williams pointed out today that for slots at the tracks to generate $60 million for higher purses, more than $4.6 billion would have to be poured into the slot machines. By comparison, about $470 million is bet on horse racing at the tracks in Kentucky each year, about $489 million is bet in charitable gaming, about $778 million is bet on the Kentucky Lottery, and about $500 million is bet by Kentuckians at casinos in Indiana and Illinois.

Seems like a pretty safe bet that we don't have the money to gamble $4.6 billion in racetrack slot machines.

Sen. Thayer's idea may be worth a look, though. Instant racing machines allow users to place bets on video of one of 50,000 archived horse races given limited information about the horses in each particular race. This wouldn't open the door for out-of-state casino operators and just might provide the revenue the tracks need.

It seems to have worked well in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

In any event, someone needs to light a fire under Jack Conway. If he gives a thumbs up to instant racing, Kentucky tracks could start installing them right away and lawmakers could get back to work on the budget.