The Breeders’ Cup Forum: KY Governor Steve Beshear

by | 02.16.2011 | 11:36am

Gov. Steve Beshear was among many notables that turned out Tuesday evening for an open house/reception at the newly redesigned offices of TwinSpires.com in Lexington, a building on Corporate Drive I know all too well, since it's where I worked when I first moved to Kentucky to become managing editor of Thoroughbred Times in 1988.

The building was barely recognizable to me on the inside, thanks to the $2-million plus in renovations. Formerly the headquarters for Bloodstock Research Information Services (whose founder, the late Richard F. Broadbent, started the Thoroughbred Times in the mid-1980s), it now hosts a state-of-the-art call center for TwinSpires.com, an account wagering company with about 145 employees (128 in Lexington), along with programmers, handicappers, and other employees of Brisnet.com, which was acquired in 2007 by Churchill Downs Inc.

Beshear came to celebrate the Kentucky expansion of TwinSpires.com, and he was joined by his running-mate for lieutenant governor, former Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson, Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo, Rep. David Osborne, and Rep. Susan Westrom, among others. Following are the governor's remarks to the guests, along with a brief one-on-one interview with the Paulick Report about the state of Kentucky's horse industry. He was introduced by Churchill Downs Inc. CEO Bob Evans.

Gov. Steve Beshear: When Bob (Evans) mentioned the Securities and Exchange Commission, a memory came back to me, when this old fella from Dawson Springs came up here to the University of Kentucky, graduated from undergraduate school, went to law school, graduated from there and then got a chance for an interview at one of these Wall Street law firms in New York. I had been to New York I think two days in my entire life, and I thought, what the heck, I'm going to go and see what this is all about. So I went, and during the course of the interview, they asked me, “What do you know about the SEC?”

I said, “Well, I know we won it 18 out of the last 20 years.” I got the job. They thought I was a great comedian.

I have obviously been faced with numerous challenges during my three-plus years as governor, going through this financial crisis that we're all experiencing. Two of the biggest challenges have been trying to put people back to work, getting people to work, and the second challenge has been maintaining our position as the horse capital of the world. Both of those things are critical to the long-term success of the Bluegrass State.

This evening represents progress on both of those fronts, I'm happy to say. I want to first thank Churchill Downs Inc. and TwinSpires.com for not only bringing new jobs to Lexington but also creating much-needed growth in our signature industry, the horse industry.

As Bob mentioned, the renovation of these offices has added another 25 part-time jobs, just about a week or so ago. That number is easy to say and we talk about job numbers all the time, but we need to pause every once in a while and think about what that really means. The number 25 really represents 25 Kentucky families who because of the ability to work here are going to be able to put food on the table for their families and keep a roof over their head, send their kids to school, and assure them a better quality of life than perhaps they have had themselves.  That is part of the excitement of the job I am in, is to be able to see people getting good jobs, and therefore be able to increase the quality of life for all of us.

At the same time, the $2-million investment in this facility is a major step forward for our horse industry in this state.  There are many reasons that we love horses: obviously, the beauty and the grace of that animal, the speed of the animal, watching it on the racetrack, watching it at the Kentucky Horse Park, watching it in all the different kinds of competitions we have here, including the World Equestrian Games that we just finished off last October, the Derby here every year, the Breeders' Cup that we just had and we have for another year here in the Commonwealth. All of those things go into what we think of and what we love about the horse in Kentucky.

I can guarantee you this, as long as I am governor, we are going to continue to do everything we can to preserve a $4-billion industry that employs about 100,000 Kentuckians. Think of that.  If we were in danger of losing a Toyota, which has about 5,000-7,000 employees, we would be going over backwards and turning flips to do whatever we could to make sure they stayed here, and we need to be doing the same thing for our horse industry.

And I can tell you, Speaker (Greg) Stumbo is here, and he is committed to this horse industry just like I am, and there are many others – Susan Westrom is here from our legislative delegation, and these folks have stepped up time and time again to make sure that we continue to be the horse capital of the world, and we are going to continue to do that, because we know how important this industry is, not just to Lexington, not just to Central Kentucky, but to all of Kentucky.

You were elected largely on a pro-gaming platform. Where do you think that issue, and the horse industry in general, will be during your campaign for reelection?
I am still very committed to the idea of expanded gaming in Kentucky. Almost every state around us, and almost every state that's involved in racing horses has some form of expanded game – except for Kentucky. It has created, as we all know, an uneven and unlevel playing field. It is putting us at risk and the horse industry at risk.

If somebody has a better idea of where Kentucky can produce the kind of money it takes to increase our purses and support our breeder incentive funds and the other programs we need to compete, I'm all for it, and I'm all ears. I'm open to any and all suggestions, but I really have never seen any idea come forward that can do for us what some type of expanded gaming can do, so I'm going to keep pushing for that idea.

Do you have any regrets that you didn't push sooner or harder after your election in 2007, given the mandate that seemed to support expanded gaming?
We attempted to act on it during our very first legislative session after I became governor.  We actually had a bill that we debated in the House. We couldn't develop the support that we needed to pass the House, but at least that got us started. Then, over the course of the next year or so, we devised a bill that passed the House, but the Senate wouldn't consider it, wouldn't let it out on the floor for a vote.

Is a constitutional amendment the best possible scenario moving forward?
At this point I'm open to any idea. I would be open to a constitutional amendment if I felt like we could get the votes for it. I think the vast majority of people in Kentucky want to have a voice in that decision. They want to make that decision; whether they are for it or against it, they want a vote on it. That is certainly one of the paths we will look at.

As far as Instant Racing, betting on historical races, in your opinion, does that need anything to be done legislatively, or are we strictly waiting on it to go through the court system?
Well, obviously, we'll have to wait for the Kentucky Supreme Court to make the ultimate decision. Once they do, my guess is we'll need to look at some legislation to clarify some parts of the process that we are trying to put in place. But if we get that favorable decision from the Supreme Court, that will really help us to at least get that part of increased revenue for our industry and for the tracks. It's not a silver bullet. It's not going to produce revenue that other forms of expanded gaming would, but it will help to some extent.

Competition in bordering states is only getting tougher. As you know it won't be long before downtown Cincinnati has a full-blown, land-based casino.  Does this add to the urgency of what you think needs to be done?
I certainly see our problems growing, because of the lack of some type of expanded gaming so that we can compete with these other states.

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