FRANKFORT— The Kentucky House of Representatives took up a high-profile issue Thursday when members approved a bill on historical horse racing machines.
Both the House and Senate spent significant time this week debating Senate Bill 120, which would define pari-mutuel wagering in relation to historical horse racing machines.
The bill will next head to the governor’s desk for his signature after the Kentucky House voted 55-38 yesterday in favor of the legislation. The Senate approved the bill on Tuesday on a 22-15 vote.
The issue of historical horse racing machines came to the forefront following the Kentucky Supreme Court’s September ruling that certain historical horse racing games, which many say resemble casino slots, are unlawful.
Kentucky’s horse racing tracks have relied on these machines as a major source of revenue.
The industry came to the Kentucky General Assembly for help following the KY Supreme Court ruling, saying the horse racing industry in the Commonwealth would be in jeopardy if lawmakers did not do something.
SB 120 is described by supporters as a continuation of a practice that has already been happening in Kentucky for a decade and that historical horse racing is needed in order for Kentucky’s horse racing industry to survive.
“Obviously, there’s a lot at stake,” said Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, on the House floor. “We’ve all heard the numbers. (Horse racing) is a $5 billion a year industry.”
Rep. Matthew Koch, R-Paris, also supported the bill. Koch described SB 120 as a bill about jobs. He cited the hundreds of jobs already lost and the thousands more that could be lost if the House did not pass SB 120.
“While Kentucky is the best place to raise a horse, it is not the only place to raise a horse, and we have to fight to keep that here,” Koch said.
Rep. Mary Lou Mazian, D-Louisville, stated that she does have issues with SB 120 and how she’s concerned that the prospect of increasing the tax rate on historical horse racing machines, as some lawmakers favor, might slip through the cracks. She ultimately voted in favor of the legislation.
On the opposing side, some lawmakers stated they believe SB 120 is unconstitutional and that gambling is predatory and harmful to Kentuckians.
“Senate Bill 120 is about saving slot machines,” Rep. Chris Fugate, R-Chavies, said. “… There’s a lot of families in America that’s been torn apart because of gambling.”
SB 120 contains an emergency clause, meaning it would become effective immediately upon the governor’s signature rather than 90 days after adjournment of the legislature.
Legislation to address the tax issue raised by lawmakers during the House floor debate has already been filed and could be further considered this legislative session.
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