We recognize there are people who may disagree with this editorial today, so we say up front we respect everyone's opinions. We also want to say that ultimately we do not proclaim to be definitively right or wrong on this issue -- instead, we simply state our opinion and put it out there for our readers to agree or disagree.
Today, we tackle expanded gaming in Kentucky. We do so after Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear called for expanding gaming to help fund Kentucky's pension crisis. Beshear said in a press release issued earlier this week that expanded gaming would "create a dedicated source of revenue for pensions so we don't have a pension battle each and every session."
Beshear is running for governor. His press release lacks a lot of the specifics one would want when it comes to pushing for such a proposal, but we think it is fair to say he is talking in large part about allowing sports gambling in Kentucky. He didn't specifically say that in his release but this is the debate now unfolding in multiple states across the nation.
We believe there is a significant argument to be made for expanding gaming in Kentucky. We would not be opposed to it if it is done right. That's a big if, but it could be done. Our opinion is the time has come to change the state's approach when it comes to this issue and consider the expansion. The reasons? The blatant need for revenues, combined with another incredibly obvious reality: that Kentuckians who truly want to gamble already are, meaning the state is completely passing on revenue headed elsewhere at a time when the Commonwealth faces am unprecedented fiscal crisis in the form of its underfunded pension systems.
There are all types of tentacles of "expanded gaming" that could be at play, but we presume that what Beshear is mostly talking about is sports betting. We've noted before in this Sunday editorial space that times have changed when it comes to the nation's views on sports gambling. Thus, so should the debate over public policy. It used to be the only place you could put a bet on sports was with illegal bookies or catch a flight to Vegas or Atlantic City. But now, right here in Ashland, if you wanted to put a bet on a sports contest, you could hop in your car and drive across the river to West Virginia where sports gambling is now completely legal. In West Virginia the state is actually capturing a portion of that huge pile of revenue. This follows a U.S. Supreme Court decision clearing the way for sports gambling across the nation. And, of course you can drive down the road to Kentucky's glorious race tracks and already put a bet on your favorite horse. For those who don't care whether they are complying with the law or not, you can simply open up your laptop and use a website -- usually an offshore one -- to place a bet on a myriad of events from horse racing to football to curling. Our point is, again, whether one likes it or not, it's already happening in abundance. There's no way around this very important fact.
The true danger of expanded gaming is problem gambling. There is a small percentage of people who gamble who cannot control themselves. They destroy their lives and often the lives of those around them. The fact is they are a small percentage of gamblers, but percentages alone matter little if you are the loved one of a person who is completely out of control. Thus, if the Commonwealth is going to consider legalizing sports gambling, there should be a requirement that part of the revenues be assigned to preventing and treating those with problem gambling addictions.
We all have choices in life. We can choose to smoke cigarettes or not. If we make the wrong decision, it can kill you. Same with alcohol, illegal drugs, etc. Where we are headed with this is saying sports gambling is illegal but tobacco and alcohol aren't is, in our view, dubious public policy when considering the actual dangers of sports gambling. Does the state of Kentucky walk away from tax revenue generated from tobacco sales? Of course not. So why would it when it comes to sports gambling which, without question, is nowhere near as deadly or dangerous?
At a minimum this should be debated in the public sphere. If people don't want it, so be it, but times have changed, and the pension systems will not be funded without new revenues. Against this backdrop this is a logical proposal that certainly should be considered.