Kentucky court punts on Instant Racing

Feb 24, 2014 8:10 PM

Instant Racing, the video game that permits wagering on previously run horse races, stymied Kentucky’s Supreme Court jurists, just as it often frustrates players attempting to pick a winner.

Asked to rule whether Instant Racing qualifies as a horse race or is illegal gambling, the Court last week threw up its collective hands, saying there wasn’t enough information on hand for the justices to determine one way or the other.

The Court sent the issue back to a lower court with instructions to gather more evidence, and arguments, to provide more guidance.

The issue came to the forefront in the Bluegrass State about three years ago when state officials ruled the video gambling devices were legal and Kentucky Downs racetrack could install the machines as an amenity to the live racing programs.

Soon, the devices generated far more money than the live races and attracted the opposition of the Family Foundation, the religious conservative group that has consistently fought the expansion of gambling within the state.

The Foundation charges Instant Racing does not meet the state’s legal definition of pari-mutuel wagering on horse races. Also, the group challenges the method on which wagers are pooled and odds calculated.

The administration of Gov. Steve Beshear, which annually proposes a constitutional amendment that would permit casinos to be built in the state, also favors Instant Racing. It supported the move by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to seek clarification from the high court.

Speaking for the Court, Justice Daniel Venters said that simply because the recordings of the races run at different times and places than live races doesn’t place them outside the boundaries of “legitimate racing” and beyond the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission’s jurisdiction.

“We cannot say that, conceptually, watching a video-taped (or digitally recorded) image of a horse race makes the event any less of a horse race than watching a re-run of a basketball game makes it something other than a basketball game,” Venters wrote for the Court.

But, it’s not live racing and the Kentucky Department of Revenue cannot collect taxes on the video events, the justices said.

In addition to Kentucky Downs, which has 390 machines in use, Ellis Park, a horse track in Henderson, has 200 machines in operation. 

Ray Poirier is the longtime executive editor at GamingToday.

Contact Ray at [email protected].

 GamingToday on Facebook      and         GamingToday on Twitter