The Kentucky General Assembly. Photo by Natalie Voss

Racing interests across the country should pay close attention to what almost happened in Kentucky. A state supreme court ruling in September on historical horse racing (HHR) nearly shut down the entire Kentucky racing industry. The ruling said a legislative fix was needed. Racing interests had to scramble — it was a legislative scramble could happen to any racing jurisdiction.

Such a panic in other places would not on the scale as it was in Kentucky, where 60,000 direct and indirect jobs, $5.2 billion in economic impact, and $15 million in fiscal year 2020 for the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund purses were at stake.

To avoid a legislative scramble, building relationship with legislators and policy makers should be in the DNA of everyone associated with racing. It is hard to believe in a place with iconic tracks like Churchill and Keeneland plus the home base of major racing organizations that relationship-building was not an ongoing activity.

Being unprepared is not an option. In today’s environment where everything is controversial, it is vital that an infrastructure is in place to influence the outcome of legislative, regulatory or policy issues.

Preparation is the key to success. The absolute first step is to make certain everyone involved from the front office of a racetrack to the backstretch knows who their own legislators are.

A few quick ideas to build legislative relations I have used over the years: introductory meetings, staying in touch, working in political campaigns, attending fundraisers, town hall meetings and other events honoring the legislator. Seek out their opinion, look for ways to mention/publicize the legislator, invite them to meetings and events, give them awards, send out photos to local and social media.

The final important point: do not wait until you need something to get in touch.

Bill Phillips operates Phillips Strategy a consulting firm and he is a former West Virginia Racing Commissioner, Chief of Staff to WV Governor & Members of Congress. Phillips also served as an executive to professional associations, managing their legislative relations.



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