Hard Feelings, Likely to Linger
By The Editors
On June 24, the day after the Kentucky Senate Budget Committee quashed legislation that would have authorized slots at racetracks across the state by a vote of 10-to-5, the legislature passed an economic incentive package that included a tax credit for the Breeders’ Cup, which returns to Churchill Downs next year. “Senator Damon Thayer Secures Breeders’ Cup Incentive Package,” declared a short statement from the senator’s office, provoking an email response from Blood-Horse features editor Lenny Shulman:
Thank you for your leadership on the slots bill. It is heart-warming and gratifying to see you stand up for the industry that has provided you with a living for the past decade-plus. As one of 50,000 people in Kentucky whose job is less secure today because of your (in)action, I want to congratulate you for placing politics before people, and for having the guts to speak up and do what is necessary to not only help the horse business, but to aid in improving education for a state that perpetually ranks 48th or 49th in school spending in the United States.
Not that I would be cynical enough to think your release concerning the Breeders’ Cup would be a feeble attempt by you to divert attention from your turning your back on the issue that is most important to the horse industry, but let me tell you, on behalf of the racetracks that will be closed and the jobs that will be lost before the Breeders’ Cup gets here in 2010, we don’t give a rat’s ass about that tax credit.
If there is any justice, the next job that will be lost because of you and your buddies, will be yours.
Thayer, contacted for comment, has not responded.*
A Republican representing a deeply conservative district, the senator is a former Turfway Park and Breeders’ Cup executive and a marketing consultant with several clients in the horse industry; earlier this year, Thayer advocated instant racing machines, similar to those at Oaklawn, as a slots alternative. Since the failure of the slots legislation for which racing and breeding interests aggressively lobbied, “the Senator from Scott” has been the focus of much criticism, despite not being a member of the committee that killed the bill, assailed for remaining silent on the issue and apparently declining to use his influence within the senate to affect the vote outcome for slots.
Thayer doesn’t come up for re-election until 2012, but slots foes whose terms expire in 2010 are now the targets of expanded gambling supporters. “Elections do matter, and who we have representing us in Frankfort does matter,” said Patrick Neely, executive director of KEEP. “It is imperative to have elected officials who would support the industry as a whole.”
“This Senate has been very positive in its policymaking decisions over the past several years for the horse business,” Thayer told the Courier-Journal. “[It won’t do] the horse industry any good to take a scorched-earth approach in the 2010 elections.”
The senator, presumably trying to balance party allegiance and constituent concerns, policy considerations and business interests, hopes slots advocates cool off and come to the same conclusion. But if the turnout at a Keeneland rally last week — or the anger of the email above — is any indication, grudges will be held, especially against those who so visibly gain from a viable Kentucky horse industry and yet aren’t viewed as supportive of expanded gaming.
* 9:45 AM update: Thayer responds, pointing to an article that appeared in the Blood-Horse last week addressing the criticisms directed at the senator. “There’s a lot of anger about it not getting out of committee, but I still believe there were only 16 or 17 votes for slots [in the full Senate],” Thayer told reporter Tom LaMarra. “I do have allegiance to the horse industry, but I took an oath to uphold the constitution of Kentucky. I take that oath seriously, and I think that position ought to be respected.”