'Simple' approach and Churchill's decision to look downtown provides casinos' 'last best chance,' group says

11/20/2013 08:01 AM

Leaders of a pro-casino group pushing a “simple” constitutional amendment to allow casinos in Kentucky said some of the toughest barriers that doomed past expanded gambling efforts are now coming down.

“This is our last chance,” said Jonathan Blue, the Louisville businessman and co-founder of the nonprofit group Kentucky Wins that officially formed in September to publicly support efforts to legalize casinos. (9:00 of the interview.)

Blue and co-chairman Ed Glasscock, chairman emeritus of Frost Brown & Todd, said the preferred approach is a constitutional amendment that would legalize casinos. That must pass both chambers of the General Assembly by a three-fifths vote and be ratified by voters in the next election. A companion bill — not a constitutional change — would handle details of governance, casino licensing and how the revenue would be divvied up.

One key sticking point leftover from past fights might be solved though. Churchill Downs is now open to building a casino, if it gets a license, in downtown Louisville rather than at or by the racetrack.

“We’ve talked to them together and for the first time, which is unprecedented, they’ve agreed to come downtown if this is passed,” Blue said (4:00). “That’s a huge development.”

Overall, Blue and Glasscock said the horse industry is starting to coalesce around one approach unlike past years when disagreements among track leaders and horsemen seemed to derail legislation before lawmakers finished voting on it.

“There’s discussions going on. They’re finally happening. They’re trying to get on the same page … But for the first time ever I think they are making much farther ground than they have in the past,” Blue said (2:00).

Still to be determined will be what, if any, preference or protections tracks will get in a companion piece of legislation to the constitutional amendment.

“We should give the tracks some opportunity here to compete and give them some priority treatment with respect to their particular markets,” Glasscock said.

Glasscock declined to suggest how to do that saying it’s up to the General Assembly.

Blue and Glasscock answered questions about whether there is a larger strategy to focus on gambling rather than tax reform (5:00), whether casinos can really deliver the revenue given other state’s mixed experience (6:00), whether Kentucky is too late to casinos as other states have approved them in the last four years (and why the horse industry needs casinos amid record auctions (7:00).

Blue and Glasscock also answered questions about the predictions of how many jobs casinos could bring. Blue has said in his speeches that the industry would create as many jobs as a Fortune 500 company would.

And the effort has attracted a bipartisan group, including prominent donors such as Kelly Knight and Joe Craft, who generally support Republicans in addition to Blue, Glasscock and Terry McBrayer, who have mostly given to Kentucky Democratic candidates.

And two honorary co-chairmen include Republican Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and Democratic state Auditor Adam Edelen — both of whom are being mentioned as candidates for governor in 2015.

So I asked Blue if the group is preparing for this to be a key issue in that 2015 governor’s race.

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