Kentucky Court Punts on Instant Racing

The Kentucky Supreme Court has held that the state’s Horse Racing Commission has the authority to regulate instant racing, but declined to rule on the legality of the machines.

The Kentucky Supreme Court, while holding that the state’s regulatory apparatus has the authority to set the rules for instant racing, has sent the question of the game’s legality back to a lower court.

Instant racing is a slot-like machine that takes wagers on anonymous past horse races, and then runs video of the races before paying off winning bets. Currently available at two Kentucky tracks, the machines have been the subject of legal challenges from opponents who claim they are basically slot machines.

The Supreme Court last week ruled on a lawsuit filed by the conservative Family Foundation in 2010 to block instant racing after regulations on the game were approved by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. Franklin Circuit Court ruled that the games were legal, allowing wagering to begin in 2011 at Kentucky Downs in Franklin. The games were later added at Ellis Park in Henderson.

In ruling on the appeal of the Franklin Circuit Court decision, the Kentucky high court held that the racing commission does in fact have the legal authority to regulate wagers on instant racing. However, on the question of legality, the high court sent the case back to Franklin Circuit Court to determine whether “the licensed operation of wagering on historical horse racing as contemplated by (the racetracks and the state) constitutes a parimutuel form of wagering.”

“We cannot say that, conceptually, watching a videotaped (or digitally recorded) image of a horse races makes the event any less of a horse race than watching a rerun of a basketball game makes it something other than a basketball game,” Judge Daniel Venters wrote for the court, saying the justices did not have enough information to rule on the machines’ legality.

The court also reversed the circuit court’s decision that allowed taxes on wagers, rather than profit. “We adjudge that the department lacks the statutory authority to tax the money wagered on historical horse racing devices,” the court wrote.

Governor Steve Beshear, who has supported instant racing, lauded the decision. “I know there are some additional hearings now that will have to go on at the trial court level on specific games, but I am pleased overall that the Supreme Court has confirmed our belief that it was legal for the racing commission to take the actions that it did,” Beshear told the Associated Press.