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Kentucky Supreme Court rules historical horse racing gambling devices unlawful, not ‘pari-mutuel’

(LEX 18) — The Kentucky Supreme Court has dealt a blow to historical horse racing.

In a unanimous decision, the high court ruled that the gambling devices do not qualify as pari-mutuel wagering unless they provide “simultaneous access to one historical horse race to the same group of patrons in which they wager among themselves, setting the odds and the payout.” The decision overturns a Franklin Circuit Court judge’s 2018 ruling.

Casino gambling is illegal in Kentucky, but the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) regulates games off of slot-like machines that offer to wager on old horse races invisible to the gambler.

The court says without positive legislative action and sanction, KHRC has “no authority to create from whole cloth and to approve a wagering pool in which each patron is wagering on a different event or set of events.”

These gambling devices are currently in use at Kentucky Downs, Ellis Park, and Keeneland’s Red Mile.

It’s unclear what the ruling means at this point. Keeneland Association, which operates the Red Mile gaming venue in Lexington tells WDRB, said, “We are evaluating the ruling at this time.”

The Family Foundation is calling on all horse racing tracks that are using these gambling devices to cease operations until the gaming being conducted confirms with the law.

“This decision reaffirms that words have meaning and that even the state’s most powerful industry can’t turn the plain language of the law upside-down for its own economic benefit,” said Martin Cothran, spokesman for the group. “We are grateful to the justices on the Court for their common sense ruling that the rule of law still prevails.”

Gov. Beshear called the ruling “devastating” to Kentucky jobs, the horse industry, and the state budget. He suggested there should be legislative change to keep the horse industry competitive.

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