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Kentucky High Court Ruling Deals Setback To Historical Racing Games

AP Photo/Otto Kitsinger, File

Parts of Kentucky's $2 billion gaming industry are reeling from a state Supreme Court decision that appears to cast doubt on the legality of their historical horse racing systems.

While the debate and the explanations surrounding it can get technical, the dispute comes down to this: Do historical horse racing machines qualify as "pari-mutuel"? That is, betting where players bet with, among, or against other players.

It's a definition that has come in for some scrutiny as Kentucky gaming venues have installed historical racing machines that they are argue meet that criteria, while opponents say the games more closely resemble slot machines - making them illegal in the state.

Thursday, the Kentucky Supreme Court notched a win for those opponents, unanimously ruling that racing systems at some state gaming venues are not pari-mutuel.

But what's at stake could be far more than the legality of one type of game, as the loss of the terminals would take a toll on the gaming venues, the state racing industry, and the millions of dollars in taxes generated by the games.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.