Chris Otts reports for WDRB.com
The Kentucky Supreme Court on Thursday pulled the rug out from the state’s $2 billion slot-like gaming industry in a surprise decision that some lawmakers say requires a legislative response.
The high court unanimously ruled that the slot-like historical horse racing system in use at three of the state’s five gaming venues does not constitute pari-mutuel wagering, overturning a Franklin Circuit Court judge’s 2018 ruling.
Casino gambling is illegal in Kentucky, but the state horse racing commission regulates games that look and feel like slots but instead offer wagering on old horse races invisible to the gambler.
The ramifications of the high court’s 7-0 opinion were not immediately clear, but the elected justices seemed to acknowledge that they were effectively putting the brakes on the decade-old industry, saying that only Kentuckians acting “through their duly-elected legislators” can legalize the games.
Gov. Andy Beshear had urged the Supreme Court to uphold the legality of the industry.
“Historical horse racing is an important part of Kentucky’s economy that supports jobs and contributes over $21 million to the state budget,” Beshear said. “We are working with various partners to find a path forward.”
The case centered on the precise definition of “pari-mutuel wagering,” which in general refers to bets players make among themselves (as in live horse racing) and not against the house (as in casino gambling).
The justices rejected the racetracks and the state horse racing commission’s more expansive definition of the term.
When people put money into the slot-like gaming machines to technically bet on old horse races invisible to them, the racetracks said, it doesn’t matter that those patrons aren’t betting against others at the same time or on the same old races.
But the high court disagreed, saying, “Emphatically, such patrons are not wagering among themselves as required by pari-mutuel wagering.”
Observers were surprised to see the judges so directly cross a booming industry.