FARISH: TAKE THE POLITICS OUT OF SLOTS

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Two months ago, the Paulick Report featured the headline REPUBLICANS VS. REPUBLICANS regarding the 527 group started by Will Farish of Lane’s End and Bill Casner of WinStar Farm. Despite both being prominent and generous donors to the Republican Party nationally and locally, they found themselves strange bedfellows with Kentucky Democrats as they helped Robin Webb squeak past Jack Ditty in a State Senate special election in late August.

What created this unusual alliance? Kentucky Republican leadership has decided to champion the anti-slots viewpoint and subsequently leave Kentucky breeders, owners and racetracks at a disadvantage to neighboring states like Indiana and West Virginia. Bill Farish, the son of Will Farish and the chairman of the Breeders’ Cup and former personal aide to George Bush Sr., makes the case that Senate Leader David Williams and others are not pitting Republicans against Democrats but instead pitting Republicans against Republicans in the ultimate display of “eating your own.”

His accurate statement that the industry has never been more united and his call for bipartisanship among Republicans, Democrats and Independents is an earnest effort toward giving the Kentucky Thoroughbred industry equal footing with those in other states.The Paulick Report hope his editorial does not fall on deaf ears. – Bradford Cummings

By Bill Farish
For almost two decades, Kentuckians have been debating the merits of expanded gaming.  As our signature racing and breeding industries have become increasingly threatened by our neighboring states, who use revenue from gaming to substantially increase race purses and breeders incentive funds, Kentucky residents have responded with a near unanimous belief that we must do everything possible to protect Kentucky’s horse industry, and the 100,000 jobs that go with it.
 
A recent statewide poll indicated that nearly 70 percent of Kentuckians support putting video lottery terminals (VLTs) at Kentucky racetracks.  That such a large majority of Kentucky residents would agree on what had been a controversial issue is striking, and speaks to our collective belief that Kentucky’s racing and breeding industries should be put on a level competitive playing field.
 
Sadly, those who oppose VLTs at racetracks, and who have clearly lost in the court of public opinion, have decided to engage in cynical rhetoric meant to divide our state instead of uniting it.
 
Senate President David Williams has made it clear that he intends to make protecting our signature industry a partisan issue.  After making a promise to every Kentuckian that the issue would receive a fair hearing in the Senate, Sen. Williams sent it to a committee where the chairman declared it dead before even hearing testimony.  Imagine going on trial and the judge declares you guilty before your lawyer even makes an opening statement.  Would you consider that a fair hearing?  
 
Now, in an effort to inject partisan politics into the discussion, Sen. Williams has attacked Gov. Beshear and other Democrats for “poisoning the well” in Frankfort.  Sen. Williams also seems to suggest that Republicans should oppose VLTs at racetracks as a tenet of our political philosophy.  As a life-long Republican, and a member of a Kentucky family that has worked on behalf of the Republican Party and Republican administrations, I can say without reservation that protecting our signature industry is not a partisan issue.  In fact, the Republican Party should be standing up for Kentucky businesses, Kentucky jobs, and a free market environment that would allow Kentuckians to fairly compete with their out of state competitors. Due to Sen. Williams’ utter mismanagement, this issue now pits Republicans against Republicans, not Republicans against Democrats, as he would have us believe.
 
Sen. Williams and several members of his caucus are currently advocating that the government should stand in the way of our signature industry, and prevent it from being able to compete.  Government interference with Kentucky businesses and job creation does not sound like a Republican philosophy I am familiar with.  But regardless, saving 100,000 jobs and the industry that identifies our state all over the world does not rest in the domain of any political party. It should be the stated goal of all Kentuckians—regardless of political registration.
 
The other strategy currently being employed is similarly distressing.  Opponents have decided that the best way to defeat VLTs at racetracks is to pit horse owners and breeders against racetracks.  By suggesting that racetracks are greedy corporations that don’t care about our horse industry, our opponents lay bare their belief that our industry must be divided in order to be defeated.  In ramping up his rhetoric, Sen. Williams has made it clear that he intends to demonize Kentucky racetracks at every turn.
 
The horse industry is as united as it has never been in the past.  Opponents of VLTs have always relied on our discord to defeat the efforts to compete on a level playing field.  Now that the industry has formed a united front, opponents seek to break us apart again.  They will be unsuccessful in their efforts to do so.  Kentucky breeders recognize that we must have a healthy horse economy in this state in order to run successful breeding operations.  A healthy horse economy includes buyers willing to invest in our product and take their investment to the racetracks in the hopes of recouping their investment. Owners recognize that they need healthy racetracks offering good purses, so that they can attempt to win back some of their initial investment.  Racetrack operators understand that they need breeders to produce and owners to race their horses at their tracks.
 
We are all in this together, and the attempt to break us into factions is disheartening.  A fractured industry cannot survive, and a failed horse industry would be catastrophic for Kentucky’s economy.  Sadly, Sen. Williams seems less concerned about helping our industry, and more concerned about maintaining control over his Senate fiefdom.   
 
However, as a new legislative session approaches, we will stand together, Republicans and Democrats, owners, trainers, breeders, racetracks, and the 100,000 Kentuckians who rely on the horse industry to make a living.  We will continue to hold our elected officials accountable, and we will not stop working until our state government gets out of the way and allows us to have the tools necessary to compete.

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  • Don Reed

    Will Farish needs no defense, as he has repeatedly come to the aid of those who have miraculously kept racing in existence, despite the odds.

    His gracious representation of the United States as the ambassador to Great Britain on September 11, 2001 is especially, fondly remembered.

    However, let’s run a contemporary photo of Mr. Farish.

    Life as it was does not properly reflect life as it is.

  • Richard Coreno

    Please, just do it right. The Ohio Supreme Court has just struck down the implementation of slots through authorization by Gov. Ted Strickland at the seven race tracks unless there is approval by voters; the earliest time-frame to place it on a statewide ballot is Spring 2010.

    It is a condemnation here on the career politicians, the governor’s lemmings on the Ohio State Racing Commission and various sycophants in track ownership and horsemen circles who tossed out a bad bill without taking a tactical commonsense approach. There is a lesson that the good people of Kentucky can learn from the bumbling and stumbling in Ohio……listen to Will Farish and do things right.

  • Jean Lamb, DVM

    Don,

    It is a contemporary of Bill Farish (as opposed to Will) , who the article quotes.

  • http://www.teamvalor.com Barry Irwin

    Politics does make strange bed fellows.

    I am as far left of center as one is likely to be and still be in the horse business, yet on the issue of slots, I side with those on the far right.

    To be fair to Sen. Williams and to be as open-minded as possible, I humbly suggest that while it would be nice to believe that racing associations are the friends of horsemen, it would be naive to assume that this is in fact the case.

    There are too many instances of racetracks adjusting their positions in favor of gaming at the future expense of horsemen’s interests.

    The issue is the same one that faces Americans in health care and climate change. Are we going to bite the bullet in the short run for a better outcome in the future, or are we going to indulge ourselves today and say to hell with the future?

    Ironically, the Republicans on a national level want to kick the can down the road on health care and climate change, yet regionally they are taking the correct stance in trying to halt implementation of the slots.

    I would like to ask Mr. Farish and Mr. Casner if, in their heart of hearts, they can tell other horsemen that getting in bed with casinos is a good policy in the long run, because nobody I have spoken with believes this to be the case.

    There is much chat among politicians about piling up debt today and saddling future generations with this debt.

    If Kentucky as a state decides to get in bed with casinos, it will be compromising the future of the residents’ children’s, because casinos will eat us alive and kill our sport.

  • eddie

    There is no “long run”. If the people of Kentucky do not put this industry on an even playing field with Indiana and possibly Ohio, the industry will die. Getting in bed with casinos has nothing to do with anything. Expanded gambling gives a competitive advantage to other states, and Kentucky horsemen, breeders and racetracks must be allowed to compete fairly.

  • steve

    As usual,the horseplayer gets nothing,not a mention.

  • C. P. Ramsey

    What does the horseplayer have to add?

  • Paula

    Senator Williams is mostly a donkey in Elephant attire.

    Plainly said, the uber wealthy horseman CAN sit back and say that they oppose the slots, but the everyday, regular horseman cannot.

    Where are all of these yearling RNAs going to race if the smaller tracks fold? Who is going to offer Kentuckians jobs if the farms go under?

  • Lee

    Thank you Mr. Cummings for including the Independents and Mr. Paulick for choosing someone who would.

    :)

  • Jonas

    If Churchill agrees to give the the majority of the pie to the Horseman then its a good deal. If not then the Tracks will have money to control politicians like Indians in Ca. Thats why Williams is balking.

  • Cheryl Buley

    For clarification, it’s Bill Farish, the son of Will Farish, who is the author of this piece. I applaud his steadfast efforts on behalf of horseracing.

    As a former resident of New York, I’ll attest to the fact that Republicans and Democrats got it right when it came to “slots” at racetracks. Under Republican Governor George Pataki and Republican Leadership in the Senate, many of New York’s racetracks have VLTs. VLTs have proven to give a considerable boost not only to horsemen and racetracks, but to education. It’s a win-win-win. The VLTs work like a lottery game. Kentucky already has the lottery so I can’t truly understand all this opposition. It’s great to see the horseracing industry uniting on this — keep up the momentum!

  • Picksburg Phil

    Be careful what you wish for. Slots at tracks are the equine equivalent of “cash for clunkers”. If the racetracks ever hire anyone that can read financial statements, they will quickly realize that there is more money to be made in the non-racing sector than the racing sector. It won’t, or shouldn’t, take long for those with elementary financial savvy to question why they are subsidizing a money losing discipline with a profitable one. The result will be to let racing wither on the vine. If all of you equine welfare queens really want to make a go of racing, then you had better learn to make racing stand ON IT’S OWN MERITS.

  • Conor

    Why does Sen Williams want to go accross the river to gamble? Surely it would be easier for him at home in KY plus his revenue could work for Kentuckians.

  • Thehorses

    Horses are not products. Horses are living breathing feeling creatures with souls. I would rather bet on a horse than a one armed bandit any day but those who like machines should be allowed to have them. Night racing supposedly proved to be really popular so why not have it all the time? If it was so popular that they ran out of things why is it necessary to have VLTs?

  • Al

    Slots gaming as a cure for horse racing’s ills doesn’t work. It is a short to mid term fix, PERIOD. Look at Philadelphia Park and Penn National. How many Kentucky “horsemen” really wan’t to goe to either venue, particualarly with their best clients, to race their horses? It’s not all about the money. Their is no real sport of racing in PA, just a few of the same trainer/owners stealing all the money just like they did before the slots subsidies were introduced. Ohio is no threat to Kentucky, neither is West Virginia. If and when Kentucky becomes a subsidised racing and breeding state, we should all be ready to throw the last bit of dirt on the horse racing grave.

  • Eagle One

    Bill

    Bravo! You have depicted the paradox all too well for us Kentucky Republicans. Notwithstanding, El Presidente Williams’ irresponsible actions makes it easy to reconcile. We are with you one hundred percent. United we stand.

    The choice for the Kentucky Republican hierarchy is clear — replace Williams before control of the Senate crosses parties with national significance including Congressional redistricting, which is dictated by the legislature.

  • Handy Andy

    Why not fix the problems instead of going to the states (again) with your hand out? Why is racing entitled to slots welfare? Say we agree that the states could use the revenue. Why should any of that money go to a bunch men and women that have run racing into the dirt.

    For CP Ramsey above, if horseplayers didn’t wager on racing breeders and owners would be running for ribbons like it was in the good old days. Where exactly do you think the money to pay purses comes from?. From the takeout on bets made by horse players that’s where. When the last of us switch to poker you all are finished.

  • Don Reed

    Jean: Thanks for the clarification. It is appreciated.

    Barry: You’re neither Left nor Right. You just shoot straight.

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