Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Opinion

February 26, 2012

Rejected

There will not be a gambling amendment on the fall ballot

ASHLAND — In 2007, Steve Beshear returned from political exile by winning the Democratic nomination for governor in the May primary and then going on to defeat Gov. Ernie Fletcher, Kentucky’s first Republican governor in more than 30 years, in November. 

Throughout his campaign, Beshear — a former attorney general and lieutenant governor who had lost races for governor and the U.S. Senate — promised that the state could raise millions of dollars in new revenue by legalizing casinos and other forms of expanded gambling. But during his first term as governor, Beshear was never able to convince legislators to place a constitutional amendment to expand gambling on the ballot.

Fresh from a landslide victory over Senate President David Williams in last fall’s governor’s race, Beshear thought 2012 would surely be the year legislators would agree to let voters decide the gambling issue. But he was wrong. By defeating a bill that would have placed the issue on the November ballot, a divided Kentucky  Senate put the gambling issue to rest for this session of the General Assembly.

Expanded gambling will be back on the legislative agenda in 2013, of that you can be sure, for this is an issue that will not die until there is some final resolution in the form of a vote by the people. But for the outcome to be different in 2013 than it was this year, pro-gambling forces are going to have to be more united in their support for as single proposal than they have been.

 While this newspaper’s editorial board has long supported placing the expanded gambling issue on the ballot, we confess to being far from enthusiastic about the specifics of the proposal the Senate defeated Thursday. Instead of limiting casinos to five racetracks and two other locations as originally proposed, it would have allowed up to seven casinos in the state with no restrictions on where they would be located. That of course would have opened the door for a casino in Ashland, and unlike some of our friends and neighbors, that is something we do not want. 

While we are disappointed on the restrictions the Ashland Board of City Commissioners have placed on use of the new Veterans Riverfront Park, placing a riverboat casino there would ruin a beautiful riverside park and limit the area to adults. The negatives would be far greater than the positives.

If you believe the Kentucky Equine Education Project (KEEP) — which has led the effort for casinos at racetracks and nowhere else — even if the bill defeated Tuesday had been placed on the ballot, it would have been defeated. KEEP claims its polls clearly show that the only expanded gambling voters will support is at racetracks, where gambling already exists. While we share the concern of those who argue that voters should not be asked to support a constitutional amendment to help only one industry, we also find it much easier to support casinos at racetracks than in Ashland or any other city.

The longer Kentucky bans casinos the less appealing they are. Kentuckians can now do casino-style gamblings by driving just a few miles to riverboat casinos in Indiana and Illinois and at dog tracks in West Virginia. A casino now is being built in Cincinnati, just a short drive from Covington and Newport. Every time a casino opens in another state, the odds of a Kentucky casino generating the type of revenue supporters like Beshear project become much larger. We doubt that even the most avid supporters of the defeated constitutional amendment  thought Kentucky could ever support seven casinos

And in one sense, revenue from expanded gambling could have made it even more difficult for Kentucky to generate the revenue it needs to fund essential programs.  It would have been easy for voters to assume that expanded gambling had solved all of Kentucky’s money woes and there was no need for tax reform or tax increases.

The vote Thursday did not strictly follow party lines. In fact, Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, who as a member of the House of Representatives voted for a bill that would have allowed expanded gambling without a constitutional amendment, voted against expanded gambling Thursday. One suspects that was because she disagreed with the types of gambling the bill would have allowed.

With expanded gambling off the table for 2012, legislators can now concentrate on the much more difficult task of approving a two-year budget that adequately funds state programs with no increases in taxes. And when legislators return to Frankfort in 2013, we hope they will spend a lot more time on modernizing Kentucky’s tax code than on expanded gambling.

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Opinion
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