Journal-Times (Grayson, KY)

December 4, 2013

Is ‘expanded gaming’ coming back to life?


Journal-Times

Dec. 4, 2013 —     We’ve lost count of the number of times that members of the General Assembly and/or Gov. Steve Beshear have flirted with the idea of using “expanded gaming” to solve Kentucky’s budget woes.

    Some observers claim the idea has been around the Capitol for 20 years in various forms.

    By the way, expanded gaming is Frankfort talk for casino gambling.

    Statewide polls continue to show that a majority of voters want the opportunity to vote on the question of whether or not the state should have casinos.

    A constitutional amendment required to legalize casino gambling has yet to appear on a statewide ballot.

    But House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark of Louisville has prefiled two bills to start the process all over again in the upcoming 2014 session.

    One bill calls for a constitutional amendment on the statewide ballot in November of 2014. The other bill is a framework for regulating and licensing casino gambling at three independent casinos and at five horse racetracks.

    Clark is a strong advocate of expanded gaming and the horse racing industry. He also is a skilled politician.

    His bills would authorize casinos while protecting existing gambling at horse tracks because a percentage of casino proceeds would be dedicated to increasing purses and the number of live racing days at tracks holding casino licenses.

    Also, pre-filing the bills comes soon after the emergence of a pro-casino group called "Kentucky Wins!" to push for casinos.

    The credibility of that effort improved considerably when the Kentucky School Boards Association (KSBA) announced on the day of the pre-filings that it will support “Kentucky Wins!"

    That could mean the public schools lobby may be hedging its bets on a growing grassroots campaign to pressure local legislators to restore K-12 funding to 2008 levels or higher.

    If lawmakers yield to that pressure and agree that schools need more funding but say the state doesn’t have the cash, their argument becomes moot if casino gambling is legalized and produces an expected $300 million in new revenue with half of that dedicated to education.

    The proposed legislation also would share casino revenue with public pension funds, city and county governments, and treatment of drug addiction and compulsive gambling.

    Allowing non-track casinos would mean that some could be located away from Central, Western and Northern Kentucky which already have horse racing.

    After so many losses, it appears the casino crowd has changed its strategy and could be making a bet favored and financed by many special interest groups.