Legislative Battle Over Gambling Resumes
FRANKFORT – Calling it “the best way to keep hundreds of millions of dollars here at home,” Gov. Steve Beshear and Sen. Damon Thayer Tuesday announced their plan to introduce an expanded gaming bill in the Senate today. The bill would authorize a statewide vote to amend the state’s constitution to allow expanded gaming in up to seven locations in Kentucky.
“We’ve been debating this issue in Frankfort for more than 15 years. The citizens of our state are clamoring to have their voices heard,” Beshear said in a statement issued by his office. “Two recent polls show more than 80 percent of Kentuckians want to cast a ballot on gaming. Are we going to listen to them or not?”
The bill would allow Kentucky voters to approve a constitutional amendment that would authorize up to five casinos at racetracks and two at stand-alone locations at least 60 miles from the nearest racetrack. Revenue from the gaming facilities would be spent for job creation, education, human services, health care, veterans programs, local governments, public safety and support of the horse industry.
“The time has come to let the people decide on the issue of expanded gambling,” Thayer, R-Georgetown, said. “This issue has been lingering in Kentucky for nearly two decades, a majority of Kentuckians wish to vote on it, and the time has come to give them that opportunity.”
Beshear and Thayer worked together for weeks to develop the bill and to build consensus support for it within the General Assembly. Sponsors of the bill include three Republicans, Sen. Thayer; Sen. Carroll Gibson and Sen. Tom Buford; and five Democrats, Sen. R.J. Palmer; Sen. Perry Clark; Sen. Denise Harper Angel; Sen. Gerald Neal and Sen. Joey Pendleton.
“A recent economic study showed that in 2010, Kentuckians spent $451 million on casino gaming in our neighboring states. That’s hundreds of millions of dollars that could be supporting our schools and building our roads – but instead it’s padding the budgets of Indiana and West Virginia,” Beshear said. “It’s time to keep Kentucky’s money here at home, and it’s time to let the voters have their say.”
The expansion of gaming would bring millions of dollars in recurring revenue into the state budget without raising taxes, Beshear said. One recent economic study estimates that, under one scenario, expanding gaming at racetracks would bring in one-time license fees of $266 million and $377 million in taxes annually into the General Fund.
That kind of recurring revenue would have enormous positive impact for Kentuckians, Beshear said, noting that his current biennial budget proposal cuts most state agencies 8.4 percent. These cuts are on top of prior cuts, some of which total more than 30 percent since 2008. Beshear has characterized the budget as “inadequate,” and warned that without increased revenue, persistent generational problems will continue to prevent the state from flourishing.
With the infusion of gaming money, the state could increase funding for education, help universities lower the cost of tuition, or better fund service programs for our elderly – all without raising taxes or further painful cuts to other services, Beshear said.
Details such as where to put the casinos and license fees and tax rates will be determined by enabling legislation that would be drafted after the legislature approves this bill, and if Kentuckians vote to approve the gaming amendment. Because the bill is a constitutional amendment, it must garner at least 60 percent of the votes in each legislative chamber in order to pass.
“You continue to hear all kinds of arguments for and against allowing expanding gaming in this state,” Beshear said in his statement. “What you don’t hear, however, is one argument about why the people of Kentucky shouldn’t have a right to vote on it. That’s because there really isn’t a legitimate argument against that. The time for a vote is now.”