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Sen. Thayer is at Royal Ascot, but remains focused on legalization of sports wagering in Kentucky


By Mark Hansel
NKyTribune managing editor

Kentucky Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, was enjoying the pageantry of the Royal Ascot horse racing meet in England this week, but his mind (or at least part of it) was on sports wagering in the Commonwealth.

Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown (left), talks with the Television Games Network at Royal Ascot Thursday about the prospects for sports wagering in Kentucky. Thayer said a bill being drafter by Rep. Adam Koenig could move Kentucky to the forefront in sports wagering (provided photos)

In an interview with the Television Games Network (TVG) Thursday Thayer, the Senate Majority Leader, said gaining approval for sports wagering was a top priority for the 2020 Legislative Session.

“Our next regular session is in January, and we’re working on a bipartisan bill now, to authorize sports wagering in Kentucky,” Thayer said. “Of course, I’d like to see it at brick-and-mortar locations, at Kentucky’s race tracks. My good friend State Representative Adam Koening (R-Erlanger) is working on the bill.”

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the ban on sports wagering in May 2018 and several states, including Indian and Tennessee have approved measures at the state level. 

Thayer says the bill being drafted now has the opportunity to level the playing field for Kentucky race tracks, but maybe even leap ahead of other states.

“We’ve had some preliminary talks with Pat Cummings and Craig Bernick at the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation about perhaps including a provision in the sports wagering bill for fixed-odds wagering in Kentucky at our tracks,” Thayer said. “I think that’s a great idea, I’d love to see Kentucky Lead the way on that.”

The Thoroughbred Idea Foundation is a non-profit organization that works to improve the thoroughbred racing industry for all stakeholders, especially its primary customers – gamblers and owners. Its focus is the exchange, curation, and advocacy of sound, data-driven ideas, shared with and implemented by the sport’s existing entities.

Fixed-odds betting is the term for placing wagers at agreed-upon odds that are locked in. A bettor makes a selection, such as which horse will win a specific race, the booking entity (for example, a race track) gives odds for the wager and a bet is placed that ensures those odds.

Under the current U.S. pari-mutuel system, bets are placed before a race, but the final odds are not determined until betting is closed.

For example, if someone makes a bet when a horse is 6-1, but the horse drops to 2-1 when betting closes, he or she does not get the 6-1 odds at the time of the bet, but the 2-1 final odds.

Fixed-odds wagering is legal in England and at Ascot Racecourse which opened in 2011. The Royal Ascot meet, which was first run in 1911, is the centerpiece of its season. 

Formal attire, including top hat and tails for gentlemen, is the order of the day and the Royal Family, including Queen Elizabeth II, are frequent visitors.

Thoroughbreds from Her Majesty’s stable are also prominent of the meet card.

Formal attire is the order of the day at The Royal Ascot and Sen. Damon Thayer, checking an item off of his bucket list, dressed accordingly Thursday.

Thayer was at Ascot Racecourse in 1995 and saw Frankie Dettori win the prestigious King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes aboard Lammtarra, but had never before attended The Royal Ascot. 

“Well, it’s a bucket-list item for me,” Thayer said. “I’ve always wanted to come to the Royal Meeting since I watched Ardross and Lester Piggott win the Gold Cup on tape delay on ABC ‘Wide World of Sports’ when I was a kid, a long time ago.”

The visit was also a gift, of sorts, for Thayer’s son, who just graduated college.

“I brought him and my daughter over here and I’m just having a good time with him at the Frankie Dettori show,” Thayer said.

Thayer was again something of a good luck charm for Dettori, who won four races, including the meet’s premier race, the Gold Cup, Thursday.

Thayer said there is a real sense of excitement at Royal Ascot and fixed-odds wagering just enhances the experience.

“I like it here, where how you can shop for odds and you get the odds when you make the bet,” Thayer said. “You don’t have to worry about late posting, or past-posting or anything like that. I think it would be a new twist to add to betting on racing in Kentucky, get more people involved. I think the younger crowd would like it, so we are going to talk about having that on the bill in January.”

Some worry that fixed-odds wagering would result in diminished profitability for race tracks.

Thayer said, however, provisions would be included in any legislation to ensure protection for race tracks if fixed-odds wagering becomes law.

“We’re going to put it in the bill. We’re going to make sure that purses get a share of any wager made at a racetrack in Kentucky, whether it’s a pari-mutuel wager, a fixed-odds bet, or a cut of an NFL game,” Thayer said. “As a matter of fact, Rep. Koenig’s bill has a provision in it that any sports wager made at a Kentucky track, a portion of it would go to the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund, which funds purses for Kentucky-breds that run at Kentucky tracks.

Breeding programs in other states have been enhanced in recent years, in part due to increased purses  for state-bred horses, that are supplemented by casino revenues. There is an ongoing concern that the enhancements could threaten one of Kentucky’s signature industries.

The Bluegrass state does not have casino gaming, but Thayer pointed out that Kentucky’s horse racing industry is on a great trajectory in right now. The state’s purses at an all-time high thanks to historic horse racing machines, which look and operate like slot machines, but use results from previously run, but unidentified, races.

“Ellis Park just had its media day, they are opening up next month (and) Churchill has record purses.,” Thayer said. “We’ve got the last two Triple Crown winners, Justify and American Pharoah standing (here). It’s great to be here at Royal Ascot, but for me, the center of the racing world is still in Kentucky.”

Contact Mark Hansel at mark.hansel@nkytrib.com


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