The Bad Deal

by Ed Meyer

posted on March 11, 2009 in General Discussion | 2 Comments >>

Everyone can go back to their 8th grade civics class and talk about what the “New Deal” held for America. In Kentucky, they have something called “The Bad Deal.” It is the complete opposite of the New Deal, and backtracks quicker than a man from taking out the garbage.

In The Commonwealth of Kentucky, Governor Steve Beshear hung his hat on the ideal of balancing the budget. Tobacco, bourbon whiskey, and Thoroughbred racing are the signature staples they are known for…. Well, that was until this year..

So far, a 6% tax on cigarettes and liquor have went into place. Do you know how many people come to Kentucky each year and visit our Bourbon distilleries?

He stepped in with intentions of fixing things, and the man is off to the races. There was going to be help in the form of slots machines at race tracks to drive revenue, and create taxes and jobs for Kentucky. The future looked bright ahead.

The mercy killing may not take that long. Ron Geary, the owner of Ellis Park, told the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission yesterday that 2009 will be the Western Kentucky track’s final season unless Kentucky legislators give tracks the tools to compete with other states: slot machines. Turfway Park in Northern Kentucky has cut purses and may be forced to reduce the number of racing dates next year. The only reason the track has not been closed and sold for development is that Keeneland is part owner, and officers of the Lexington racetrack and auction house understand how important a racing circuit that extends beyond Keeneland and Churchill Downs is to Kentucky.

How desperate is Kentucky’s racing business? When Churchill Downs general manager Jim Gates asked the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission for approval to add a single race to this year’s Kentucky Oaks and Derby day cards, there was a lengthy discussion about whether or not the Louisville track would have enough horses to fill those additional races.

And the racing commission itself is all but tapped out. Forget about heightening integrity of pari-mutuel pools, improving backstretch security and launching out-of-competition drug testing. The commission is having a hard enough time making payroll for existing staff, let alone filling new, vital positions and creating programs to boost public confidence in Kentucky’s horse racing product. Other states may have permanent funding for their racing commissions to do what’s required to maintain integrity. But this is Kentucky, where the horse industry is viewed by some legislators as “the sport of kings” when in reality it is becoming a poor, forgotten stepchild.

This is a bad and unfortunate mistake. One that cannot be undone. If Kentucky loses its #1 signature item, what will be next? I think a timeout needs to be called, and right away. Can’t we defer to the officials in the booth, or have a TV timeout? Anything, just don’t turn your back and pretend this isn’t here….