News briefs from around Kentucky at 1:58 a.m. EDT

Thursday, May 1, 2014

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Churchill Downs taking a bigger cut of wagers

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Before the Kentucky Derby contenders sprint from the starting gates, the crowd at Churchill Downs will hand over millions of dollars at betting windows. Gamblers lucky enough to pick the right colts, thanks to homework or hunches, will be getting a little less back on those winning tickets.

The famed track recently announced that it will take a bigger cut of the money bettors place on its races. The decision came after Kentucky lawmakers rejected the racing industry’s latest effort to add slot machines to generate more cash to boost prize money for horse owners.

Churchill spokesman John Asher said without the bigger cut, the track would have had to reduce the prize money for winners of spring races and some races would likely have been cut altogether. Instead, the track was able to increase its stakes purses by 2.7 percent to $7.68 million for the spring races. The track hopes for a domino effect - that higher purses will lure more horses for races, which in turn will bring out more bettors long after the Derby is run.

“If Churchill Downs is to present a competitive racing product, purses must be strong enough to keep current stables in the state and attract new stables and horses to the Kentucky racing circuit,” Asher said.

Kentucky touts itself as the world’s horse capital with its picturesque horse farms and historic tracks. But some race courses are struggling to compete with tracks in states such as New York and Pennsylvania that have parlayed casino gambling into higher purses that lure more horsemen.

The decision by Churchill Downs - the most storied of all tracks - to withhold more money signals the sport’s struggles in states that haven’t expanded racetrack gambling.

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Gov. Beshear: Special session not likely

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear said he likely would not call the Legislature back for a special session as House and Senate leaders continue to blame each other for not passing bills combating heroin use and overhauling state ethics laws.

“Before I would do it we would need to have some agreement on the topics,” Beshear said Wednesday. “At this point, my door is not being knocked down with folks that are crying out for a special session.”

Republican Senate President Robert Stivers has continued to call for a special session to pass a bill combating heroin use as state officials reported a 650 percent increase in heroin overdose deaths from 2012.

Wednesday, Stivers wrote an editorial for the Cincinnati Enquirer blaming House Democrats for not passing the heroin bill.

“The House received this bill on Jan. 17. Instead of hearing and passing it immediately, they held onto it,” Stivers wrote. “The only logical explanation is that they kept this bill to use as a pawn in their political games.”

Meanwhile, Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo sent a letter to Beshear to say a special session must include an ethics reform bill the House passed on the next-to-last day of the 2014 session. The bill is in response to the Legislative Ethics Commission’s decision to not punish a former Democratic House member accused of sexual harassment.

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