Political and economic worries jeopardize expanded gaming before Beshear's final session

09/26/2014 08:46 AM

As Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear’s second and final term comes to a close, his campaign pledge to expand gambling opportunities in Kentucky appears to be sputtering.

Political and economic factors have caused the issue’s dimming prospects in the General Assembly, as explained by Beshear and Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer.

Beshear told Pure Politics after an event in Louisville Wednesday he hates “seeing all this Kentucky money” flowing to other states as residents gamble in surrounding areas, such as Ohio, Indiana and West Virginia. Those states’ governments then spend tax revenue from gambling proceeds on things like education, he said.

While negotiating between Kentucky lawmakers of different political ideologies may prove difficult on the controversial issue like expanded gaming, leaders in the horse industry may be even more finicky in their preferences for casino-style gambling.

“We’ve worked on it,” Beshear said at 0:36 in the video. “It’s hard to even get the horse industry together. You know, you’ll have the tracks on one side, you’ll have the breeders on the other, then you’ll have the tracks against each other. You know, you never can get them all corralled in one place to support one particular approach.”

The legislature has taken a number of stabs at expanded gaming since Beshear’s election in 2007. The House passed a bill in 2009 legalizing slots, but the legislation died in the Senate. When the upper chamber took up a constitutional amendment on expanded gambling in 2012, the 16-21 vote fell seven votes shy of the 23-vote supermajority needed to amend Kentucky’s Constitution.

The issue has had little traction in the General Assembly since, particularly since Churchill Downs drew Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo’s ire this summer by contributing $100,000 to a group supporting Kentucky Republican candidates, as The Courier-Journal reported. Beshear said he hasn’t heard much talk about expanded gaming before his final session as governor, lowering his expectations in the 30-day session.

“I have conversations about the issue from time to time, but I have had no meetings where I felt like anything was coming together at this point,” Beshear said at 1:26.

Thayer, R-Georgetown, shares Beshear’s pessimistic view for expanded gambling’s chances in 2015. He sponsored the failed constitutional amendment in the Senate in 2012, but he told Pure Politics in a studio interview this week he would not repeat the task.

“I have no plans to carry a casino-gambling bill ever again,” Thayer said at 0:46 in the video. “I think the issue is losing steam. I really do.”

Aside from political realities, economic factors play into the debate as well. Thayer said the Massachusetts Gaming Commission recently gave Boston’s lone casino license to a group that doesn’t operate the only horse track in the city, Suffolk Downs.

“That race track, Suffolk Downs, now looks like it’s going to close next year, and it will be the last race track in New England, which once had 17 race tracks,” Thayer said. “… I think there is some oversaturation, and I had someone in the horse industry say to me the other day that maybe it’s a good thing that Kentucky never legalized casinos.”

Kentucky voters would be unable to vote on a constitutional amendment until the 2016 elections should the General Assembly pass such a bill, which Thayer says also hurts the issue’s chances in the upcoming session.

Still, he stopped short of burying the chances of gambling legislation in 2015.

“I didn’t say it was dead, but I said that I believe a lot of momentum has left the issue,” he said at 2:55, noting he would support a constitutional amendment “as long as it protected the horse industry with a percentage of the gaming proceeds going into purses and breeder incentives.”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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