Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

February 7, 2013

Still divided

Lack of unity continues to hamper pro-gambling efforts

The Independent

ASHLAND — A major reason why efforts to expand gambling have fared so poorly in the Kentucky General Assembly is pro-gambling forces have never been able to agree on just what types of gambling should be allowed in Kentucky and where gambling should be permitted. Meanwhile, anti-gambling forces have been united in their opposition to new forms of wagering.

That problem continues, said Gov. Steve Beshear, and as long as those seeking to expand gambling remain divided, the odds of the 2013 General Assembly approving the placement of a state constitutional amendment to expand gambling on the 2014 ballot remain extremely long.

As legislators gathered in Frankfort for the remainder of the 2013 General Assembly, Beshear told reporters Kentucky’s horse racing industry continues to be divided on how to proceed in its efforts to expand gambling.

The horse racing industry and its lobbying arm — the Kentucky Equine Educational Project, or KEEP — has spent millions of dollars in recent years in its efforts to convince legislators to allow new types of gambling in the state. Despite Beshear making expanded gambling a key part of his successful 2007 campaign that unseated Gov. Ernie Fletcher and his landslide re-election in 2011, the governor has failed to convince legislators to place a gambling amendment on the ballot.  He’s likely to fail again in 2013 despite the departure of former Senate President David Williams.

Beshear insists Kentucky is losing hundreds of millions of dollars a year to neighboring states that already have casinos. He said Kentucky needs to legalize casinos so that money can be kept in the state to generate cash for Kentucky’s signature horse industry and to bolster government revenue.

“I think it’s also become clear from our prior experience that the language that has the best chance of success in the General Assembly is what we would call a clean amendment, one that authorizes expanded gaming, perhaps limits it to a certain number of locations, but does not guarantee racetracks a monopoly on casinos,” Beshear said Tuesday. “I am finding that that type of language in an amendment has more support than the prior efforts we’ve made. And I’m encouraged by that. However, several of the racetracks outside of Louisville are opposing such an amendment on the grounds that it doesn’t give them a guarantee of a casino or mileage protection from any kind of competition.”

In the past, KEEP has insisted a constitutional amendment that would limit casinos to racetracks where gambling already exists is the only one that can be approved by voters. However, legislators have been reluctant to promote a constitutional amendment that would only benefit racetracks.

Beshear indicated Tuesday that some in the racing industry continue to insist casinos be limited to existing tracks, and that insistence is harming the chances of an amendment being placed on the ballot. The governor said three tracks — Keeneland, the Red Mile and Kentucky Downs — are leading the opposition to his latest proposal that would not limit casinos to tracks. 

“I feel that if those tracks were on board we would have the votes in the Senate now to pass that type of amendment,” the governor said. “So we’re still in conversation with senators and we’re still in conversation with the racetracks, but I can’t predict at the moment whether any bill will be filed or what action may happen during this session.”

Don’t expect any action on expanded gambling in 2013. Legislators have far more important issues such as pension reform and tax reform to deal with. Expanded gambling can wait until the 2014 session. After all, a constitutional amendment can’t be placed on the ballot until next year. Instead of pushing for action on expanded gambling during this session, Beshear and key legislators should work to get those who support expanded gambling to agree on a single proposal. Without that, they will never convince legislators to place a pro-gambling amendment on the ballot.