COMMENTARY

Is gambling’s corruptive influence already here?

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Kentucky's horse racing industry, already taking heat over the high level of horse deaths at tracks, is now faced with another scandal after an investigative report uncovered the cozy relationship between the racing industry and the state commission that is supposed to be regulating it.


As it turns out, instead of Kentucky's Horse Racing Commission overseeing the state's horse racing industry, it looks like the racing industry is overseeing the Horse Racing Commission. That, at least, is the implication of a recent report by Kentucky's Center for Investigative Reporting.


The Horse Racing Commission has played a major role in facilitating the implementation of the warmed-over slot machines that pass as "historical racing" machines and now populate a number of gambling parlors around the state. It’s not that the Horse Racing Commission hasn’t been looking at all, it’s that it has been looking the other way.


Despite the Commission’s failure to be a leader in the safety and integrity of the sport or ensure the welfare of the horse, its authority and power would have been expanded by a bill to legalize sports gambling which failed in this year's General Assembly. Given the failure to meet current responsibilities, why should its powers and authority be expanded?


The Horse Racing Commission is a regulatory agency and the thing it is supposed to regulate is the horse racing industry. But the Commission has for years gone along its merry way doing little in the way of regulation and a whole lot in the way of helping to further line the pockets of horse racing magnates. But while all this has been going on for years, no one ever bothered to take a look at the Commission itself. The Lexington Herald-Leader? The Louisville Courier-Journal? Where were they?


But now someone has looked into it. The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, doing the newspapers' job for them, has issued a stinging indictment of the Horse Racing Commission and implicitly exposed it for what it is: A rubber stamp for the industry.


According to the Center's report, the horse racing tracks have basically been regulating themselves.


When it came to monitoring the accuracy and legality of "historical racing" machines, says the report, "records show the state’s regulatory commission let the tracks themselves fund and oversee the consultant’s work."


Imagine if such a thing happened in the regulation of any other industry. It would be a national scandal.


And not only did the Commission let the racing industry pay and oversee their own regulations, they apparently, according to the report, "didn’t even have copies of the invoices from New Jersey-based Gaming Laboratories International until it gathered them for the auditor."


"Most people who thought it through would recognize this is not a way to run a railroad, so to speak,” Michael Fagan, a former assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Missouri, who specializes in gambling cases, told the Center. “The industry that is supposed to be regulated is buying its own regulator.”


"In total," says the report, "the commission handed the race tracks and manufacturers the responsibility for nearly $900,000 in payments to GLI."


Some have called it bribery. Others, say a corrupting influence. Does either belong in Kentucky’s horse racing industry?


Martin Cothran is the senior policy analyst for The Family Foundation.

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