LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The Kentucky Supreme Court has declined to revisit its September ruling on the legality of historical horse racing, ratcheting up the pressure on Kentucky lawmakers to vote on a bill that would keep the multi-billion-dollar slot-like gaming industry alive in the state.
The court issued a one-paragraph notice on Thursday that it has rejected long-odds requests from the horse tracks that own the state's six gaming venues and their regulator, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, to reconsider the ruling.
In a bombshell decision released Sept. 24, the court ruled that the gaming machines, which look and act like slot machines, do not fall under the state's definition of parimutuel wagering even though the industry says payouts are based on the results of old horse races invisible to the player.
Parimutuel gaming, the type of wagering in live horse racing, is legal in Kentucky, but casino gambling is not.
The Supreme Court didn't explicitly order any of the gaming venues to close, and they have remained open since the September decision.
Even as the decision is now final, the venues will remain open for the time being.
Whether that changes is up to Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate, the trial judge in a decade-long case about the legality of historical horse racing -- or "instant racing," as it was first known.
The Supreme Court tasked Wingate with entering an order consistent with the legal principles outlined in the September opinion.
Attorneys involved in the case say there is no timeline for Wingate to make that order, and it's unclear whether he will have a hearing or take other procedural steps first.
The conservative Family Foundation of Kentucky, which successfully prosecuted the case against the gaming machines, said in a statement Thursday that it "fully expects" the venues to close their doors.
"The state's horse racing tracks have been legally running from the law and the State Constitution for ten years while the regulatory agency overseeing them has looked the other way," the Family Foundation said. "Now they've run out of options."
That regulator, the horse racing commission, said it's up to Wingate what happens next.
The agency pledged to "act in accordance with the terms of the judgement entered by the Franklin Circuit Court," and declined to comment further.
More pressure for legislative action
Meanwhile, allies of the horse industry are expected to push a bill in the state legislature that would clarify that the gaming machines are considered parimutuel wagering.
Lawmakers would need to vote on it by the end of March, when the 2021 session concludes.
But the bill isn't guaranteed to succeed in the Republican-dominated House and Senate, where many social conservatives could be reluctant to formally endorse gambling.
Lawmakers have never formally voted to endorse historical horse racing. The industry got off the ground in 2011 and grew to more than $2 billion a year in wagers under the regulatory guise of the horse racing commission and the support of governors of both parties.
Even if lawmakers do advance a bill, another legal battle is likely.
The Family Foundation contends that it would take an amendment to the state constitution to legalize historical horse racing, not a mere legislative vote.
A constitutional change requires a higher margin of legislative support and the ratification of voters in a statewide referendum, which could not happen until the next election cycle in 2022.
"It's very likely that the Family Foundation will file another (law)suit saying, 'No, this is really a constitutional issue,'" said state Rep. Jerry Miller, a Republican from eastern Jefferson County, who supports historical horse racing. "So it would not surprise me to see yet another bill either in this session or next year's session putting this matter on the ballot."