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Kentucky Governor Advocates For Sports Betting, Historical Racing Machines To Support Thoroughbred Racing

James Murphy
by in Horses on
  • Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear has called for the state legislature to pass bills to implement sports betting and to clear up the status of historical racing machines.
  • The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled against historical racing machines in September as not fitting the definition of ‘pari-mutuel’ wagering.
  • Historical racing machines have been used to subsidize purses at Kentucky racetracks.

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear came out strongly in support of sports betting and historical racing machines in his state as a means of subsidizing the state’s horse racing industry. Governor Beshear advocated for both during a ‘legislative preview conference’ held on Wednesday night via streaming video. In Kentucky, it is customary for the governor to give a speech outlining the priorities of the executive branch prior to the reconvening of the state legislature. This year’s speech was held virtually due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The governor is in a tough political spot even though sports betting and historical racing machines are clearly in the best interest of the state and Kentucky’s racing industry. Beshear is a Democrat in a strongly Republican state. Despite the importance of horse racing to Kentucky’s history and to the economy past and present a disturbing number of Republican legislators are beholden to fundamentalist religious zealots. This fringe group would rather see the state’s economy and national image go down in flames than to allow politicians to do what is best for all of Kentucky’s residents. Instead, they’re intent on forcing their narrow definition of ‘morality’ on everyone in the Bluegrass state.

Historical racing machines–also called ‘instant racing’ games– are an interesting variation on traditional slot machines. They’ve become popular as an adjunct to thoroughbred racing since they use historical racing data to determine the outcome of games that closely resemble slot machine play. They’re similar to the Class II gaming machines that have been seen in tribal gaming jurisdictions for years. Many jurisdictions will allow these machines–which are based on bingo game outcomes–even if Class III gaming is denied to tribal gaming authorities by the state government. Simply put, instead of a random number generator (RNG) determining the outcome of games they are determined by a de facto networked bingo game. If you want to see the legal definition of Class II Gaming check out the link below:


Historical racing games began simply enough as devices that allowed players to wager on the outcome of hypothetical ‘races’ derived from data obtained from actual past performances that have been stripped of identifying data. They’ve since evolved to be similar to Class II gaming devices–only with game outcomes being determined by past performance data from historical races instead of bingo games.

So what’s the problem? Horse tracks find a clever way to offer a wider variety of games which brings in more revenue for the racing industry and the state. The ‘problem’ is that religious fundamentalists devote their time and effort toward forcing entire populations to live under their backwards concept of ‘morality’. A group of religious kooks have been fighting them in Kentucky for years and in September 2020 the state Supreme Court ruled that they did not fit the legal definition of ‘pari-mutuel wagering’. Thankfully, most racetracks have continued to operate their machines as they wait for a lower court to issue a revised opinion.

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission authorized the games in 2010 and they’ve been operational since 2012. During that time, purses at Kentucky tracks have doubled thanks to proceeds from historical racing games. With historical race wagering attracting hundreds of millions in revenues it also benefits the state, which taxes the proceeds. Here’s what Churchill Downs racetrack President Kevin Flanery said about the impact of historical racing at CDI owned Derby City Gaming during the track’s spring meet 2019:

“Our investment into Derby City Gaming continues to pay immediate dividends to all owners, trainers and jockeys that participate at Churchill Downs. The result is an exciting and ultra-competitive Spring Meet racing product for bettors nationwide.”

Despite the booming popularity of sports betting worldwide and across the US, bringing it to Kentucky faces the same roadblocks from the so called ‘Religious Right’. As long as politicians allow narrow minded fundamentalists to hijack issues of concern to the entire state it’ll be tough going for sports betting and historical racing in Kentucky. There is hope that the revenue shortfalls caused by the COVID-19 pandemic will motivate timid politicos to operate in the best interest of all Kentucky residents. That remains to be seen.

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