The Kentucky Senate has passed Senate Bill 120, which legalizes historical horse racing machines throughout the state.
Kentucky Senate Passes Bill To Legalize Historical Horse Racing Machines
On Tuesday, the Kentucky Senate voted in favor of Senate Bill 120 to legalize historical horse racing machines throughout the state. The bill essentially alters the definition of what is considered pari-mutuel wagering to now include the HRR machines. After a 22-15 vote, the SB 120 now moves on to the House of Representatives.
The bill was proposed by and pushed for by the Kentucky horse racing industry. The proposal was made last year following the Kentucky Supreme Court’s ruling that HRR machines may not be considered a legal form of pari-mutuel wagering. The industry argued that the closure of HRR facilities would have a severe negative impact on business and trigger substantial job losses.
According to Senator John Schickel, who is the lead sponsor behind the new bill, the move will support real jobs and real families. In particular, he expressed fears that without the legalization of HRR machines, Northern Kentucky’s Turfway Park may be forced to shut down. This would leave its 1,400 employees out of work.
Bill Draws Substantial Support As Well As Criticism
However, SB 120 has also drawn substantial criticism from a number of Senate members. According to critics, the bill itself is unconstitutional. They argue that HRR machines can only be legalized through a constitutional amendment. Such a move would necessitate a state referendum, which means that legalization could happen in late 2022, if not later.
Senator Whitney Westerfield has also expressed concerns regarding the morality behind the bill. Westerfield warned that the state should not cooperate with an industry that depends on players’ losses to fuel itself. According to her, gambling in all of its incarnations and forms is predatory and in general bad for public policy. Westerfield also said that the bill is a bailout for an industry which, according to her, exploits the poor.
Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer stressed that criticism against the bill is a form of “class warfare” as it diminishes the work of employees in the horse racing industry. Thayer has been a vocal proponent of SB 120 since its inception. He warned that should the bill fail to pass, three to four race tracks could go out of business by the end of the current fiscal year. This would also mean a smaller tax income for the Kentucky government, he warned.
Senator Stephen Meredith, who voted in opposition to the bill, said that legislators were essentially being “blackmailed” by the prospect of job losses if the bill is not accepted. While Meredith understands the need for jobs in the state, he questioned whether legalizing HRR machines was truly worth it. Meredith also echoed Westerfield’s opinion by calling the bill a “regressive tax on poor people”.
Sen. Schickel disagreed with the bill’s opponents. He questioned whether it was truly the Senate’s role to tell poor people that it needs to “protect them from themselves”.