LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - As Derby Day nears Kentucky's signature sport faces greater competition from other states that lure horses and trainers with bigger purses.
Horse tracks in states that allow casinos use gambling revenue to fund purses. Casinos are outlawed in Kentucky and tracks are turning to instant racing games and other methods to compete.
Churchill Downs previously announced it would take a bigger cut of each bet, meaning winners will get less cash at the window this year. But the plan may prove counterproductive, said Bob Heleringer, executive director with the Kentucky Equine Education Project, which advocates for the horse industry.
"When you raise the takeout, you drive off bettors. There's no question about it," Heleringer said. "It's going to be interesting to see how that works out this year."
Bettors can use the Internet to place bets at other tracks instead of facing the higher takeout at Churchill Downs, Heleringer said.
He also called instant racing games at other tracks a "Band-Aid," and said the long-term solution would come if Kentucky lawmakers and voters allowed casinos at race tracks.
"The longer we go not having this opportunity to compete, the harder it gets," Heleringer said.
The effort to legalize casinos stalled this year at the state Capitol, where a bill never even got a vote in committee. The House and Senate remained locked in a stalemate over who would make the first move on the controversial issue.
The Family Foundation and others have argued that casinos lead to addiction and would hurt Kentucky families. It's better that they're in other states, casino opponents have said.
Racing fans at Churchill Downs on Wednesday said they supported expanded gambling and didn't want the track taking a bigger cut of their bets.
"I don't like it," said Alan Sawyers, who made $200 off a bet Wednesday. "It's not really (a big deal) for me, but I don't win that much."
Others, who were excited that another racing season was underway, said they hoped one of Kentucky's signature industry would remain strong.
"The bottom line is, it's awesome," Clyde Williams said. "The state of Kentucky, Churchill Downs, this time of year -- it's awesome."
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