The following is an op-ed piece authored by several chamber of commerce and tourism leaders from across Kentucky. See the list of authors below.
Over the past ten years, historical horse racing, or HHR, has been the catalyst for Kentucky racetracks to invest millions of dollars and create thousands of jobs in communities across the commonwealth. Today, historical horse racing venues located in Franklin, Oak Grove, Lexington, Henderson, Louisville, Florence and Newport directly employ 1,400 Kentuckians, with plans to add even more jobs. But, without immediate action from the General Assembly to keep historical horse racing in Kentucky, all this could go away overnight—and real Kentuckians are the ones who will be hurt the most.
While HHR has certainly been a tremendous asset for the communities where it is already taking place, its positive impact extends far beyond those cities and towns. HHR has been a driving force in building up Kentucky’s equine industry as a whole, which currently employs 60,000 people directly and indirectly and has a $5.2 billion economic impact statewide. A stronger horse industry is something that benefits all Kentuckians, and that’s why we’re counting on the General Assembly to pass legislation protecting historical horse racing in 2021.
HHR has truly made Kentucky a horse racing destination for tourists, owners, breeders and trainers alike. When people visit our communities, they’re dining at our restaurants, shopping at our businesses and staying at our hotels. And, when more owners and trainers decide to race their horses at Kentucky tracks, they’re bringing their dollars to our cities and towns, as well. Some industry professionals have even decided to relocate here permanently or set up local operations because they know our racing circuit is one of the best in the world.
While some of this activity has slowed due to COVID-19, our communities are well positioned to contribute to Kentucky’s economic recovery as we begin to move past the pandemic. But that can only happen if we move forward with legislation to keep historical horse racing in our state.
The horse industry is an integral part of our commonwealth. The loss of HHR would be devastating for the 1,400 Kentuckians employed by historical horse racing venues today and for the thousands more whose jobs support the horse industry more broadly. We are not talking about a concept or proposal; these are brick and mortar establishments, some of which have been around for years. Preserving the status quo to ensure these businesses can continue to operate, employ Kentuckians and contribute to our economy is just commonsense.
We have already begun to see the serious consequences of the Kentucky Supreme Court’s ruling on HHR and what the future might look like if we don’t pass legislation to fix it. Millions of dollars in planned investments have been halted during this time of uncertainty, and construction projects have been put on hold. Some HHR venues have even make the difficult decision to shut their doors as they await action from the General Assembly, leaving many Kentuckians without jobs at a time when the unemployment rate is already cause for concern.
Kentucky is fortunate to have an industry that’s so eager to move our economy forward and breathe new life into communities across the state through jobs and investment. But that won’t happen without immediate action from our state legislators to keep historical horse racing in Kentucky.
- Kelli Pendleton, President and CEO, Christian County Chamber of Commerce
- Robert L. Quick, CCE, President and CEO, Commerce Lexington Inc.
- Candance Castlen Brake, President and CEO, Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce
- Brad Richardson, President and CEO, Hardin County Chamber of Commerce
- Ellen Redding, President and CEO, Henderson County Chamber of Commerce
- Abby Dixon, Executive Director, Henderson Tourist Commission
- Ashli Watts, President and CEO, Kentucky Chamber of Commerce
- Hank Phillips, President and CEO, Kentucky Travel Industry Association
- Karen Williams, President and CEO, Louisville Tourism
- Julie Kirkpatrick, President and CEO, meetNKY
- Brent Cooper, President and CEO, Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce
- Lauren Biddle, Executive Director, Paris-Bourbon County Chamber of Commerce
- Mary Quinn Ramer, President, VisitLEX