Kentucky – The Casino Battlefield
With a motto that states ‘Unbridled Spirit’, huge green paddocks hugging the hills and landscapes, and the Thoroughbred horse selected as the official horse of the state, Kentucky is undoubtedly horse country. Although it is also famous for being home to the U.S. Treasury Gold Vault at Fort Knox, places like Lexington in Kentucky proudly bare the name of Horse Capital of the World. And with more than four hundred and fifty horse farms in the Lexington area alone, Kentucky has enjoyed a history with horse racing that has been passed down for many generations.
Racecourses, such as Keeneland, Ellis Park, Kentucky Downs, Churchill Downs, Turfway and the Red Mile, have been home to horse racing for centuries and host prestigious racing events such as the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Cup Turf Festival. Racing, breeding and training horses has become a way of life here, a life that some feel is now under threat with the legalizing of casinos at the racecourses.
In ten other states, the idea of introducing casinos into racecourses has already been embraced so as to assist the horse racing industry. But in Kentucky, many horsemen feel that the casinos will rob their racing tradition of its heritage and destroy the image of horse racing as it is known today. Many people fear that the casinos will attract a less than desirable group of gamblers, who are not interesting in horse racing at all. Concerns also exist over people who already have little earnings, and who will spend it all in the hope of hitting a jackpot at the casino, tumbling the poorer communities into deeper debt and poverty. Horses and horse racing is also the only industry in Kentucky that has found true success here, providing over thirty thousand jobs. Another factor that some horsemen are afraid of is that the shiny slot machines will lure gamblers to the casinos instead of the racing totes, and therefore kill the horse industry it was supposed to have assisted. Those supporting the introduction of casinos, feel that the casinos will help generate a greater income, allowing the racing events to bring bigger racing names to the bigger purses.
And as the debate continues and horsemen stand by their decisions, the hope is that the neon lights of Las Vegas will not disfigure the beauty and magnificence of the state. With many wealthy horse racing enthusiasts and owners supporting events such as the Kentucky Derby, choices have to be made carefully so as not to destroy the influx of horses that come to Kentucky for the big stakes races. Looking out across the pristine fields and the horses grazing peacefully under a cloudless sky, many hope that a compromise can be made to support the racing industry, while maintaining the integrity and legendary reputation of the state.