Tuesday, November 09, 1999

Roosters still king in Ky.

Cockfighting continues despite being outlawed in June

The Associated Press

        MOUNT STERLING, Ky. — Rooster farmers and the merchants who sell them feed and other supplies say they're feeling the pinch from a court ruling once again declaring cockfighting illegal.

        “In some parts of this state, it's either the coal mines, Wal-Mart or fighting chickens,” said Stirl Maiden, whose front yard contains dozens of barrels, each home for a rooster worth about $200.

        Mr. Maiden doesn't depend on the sale of his fighting roosters to pay the bills. “I just do it for a hobby, but there are lots of people out there for who this is their whole livelihood.”

        Marvin Watkins operated one of the biggest pits in the region, attracting thousands of people almost every weekend to Montgomery County. Some came from as far away as the Philippines and Mexico.

        Mr. Watkins said his 700-seat pit generated more than $1 million of taxable income each year.

        Last August, he announced that he was shutting down his arena and converting it to storage space.

Violations bring jail, fines
        His decision followed a Kentucky Supreme Court ruling in June that cockfighting was illegal. There are penalties of up to one year in jail and a $500 fine for those convicted of the misdemeanor charge of participating in or watching a cockfight.

        For nearly 20 years, confusion reigned in Kentucky over the legality of cockfighting.

        The 1980 General Assembly passed a bill legalizing the activity, but then-Gov. John Y. Brown vetoed the measure. Cockfighting supporters challenged the veto, saying it came after the 10-day deadline, and a series of contradicting court rulings and attorney general opinions left law enforcement officials and cockfighters unsure about its legal status.

        The latest state Supreme Court ruling said there wasn't enough evidence that Mr. Brown's veto was late.

Anti-transport bill pending
        The U.S. Senate is expected to vote in a few weeks on a bill that would make it a crime to transport fighting cocks or cockfighting paraphernalia across state lines.

        The bill, introduced by Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., is designed to put a stranglehold on cockfighting by isolating the three remaining states Oklahoma, New Mexico and Louisiana that still allow it.

        Any rooster that fights in those states would have to be born and raised in those states, meaning a grower in Kentucky could no longer sell roosters to a cockfighter in Louisiana.

        Carol Marascia, manager of the Day Inn in Mount Sterling, said that when Mr. Watkins' pit was operating, hotels, convenience stores, restaurants, and feed stores got a financial boost from the visitors.

Hotels no longer packed
        “We'd be sending guests to hotels in Winchester and Lexington, because there were just so many people coming in for those fights.”

        “On the weekends when the cockfights were out there, we'd fill all the rooms up,” she said.

        Ms. Marascia, other hotel and restaurant operators say those watching cockfighting were responsible for between 10 percent and 20 percent of their annual revenue.

        Animal-rights activists say cockfighting probably generates millions of dollars a year for the state.

        “But it's not worth it,” said Pam Rogers of the Louisville-based Fund for Animals.

        “I don't care if it's $8 billion. We don't want revenue from that any more than we want revenue from child pornography.”

        Cockfighters and their supporters say they are used to being targeted by people who don't understand them or their sport.

        No matter how many laws are passed, the activity will go on, they say.


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