Normally, this is more of a spring event. Kentucky’s General Assembly convenes and, like clockwork, someone files a bill to bring casino gambling to Kentucky. Note: not all of Kentucky, usually just cities with horse tracks.
In a move to get ahead of schedule, at least one pro-casino bill has been filed before the stockings are hung. Rep. Dennis Keene (D-Wilder) prefiled bill request 214. It’s one of several dozen prefiled bills for those lawmakers who want to get the early start.
According to Keene’s bill, oversight of casino gambling would be placed with the Kentucky Lottery Corporation. It would limit locations at which a casino may be located to either counties with a population of 90,000 or more, or cities of the fourth class or greater that already have a horse racing track located within the city.
But the new bill does at least have a provision for leaving it up to local voters. Before a casino may be approved in those areas, a local option election must be held to get the sense of the people before the casino licensing process is allowed to go forward. The election may be placed on the ballot either as a result of a local ordinance, or by a petition signed by a number of people equal to 25 percent of the votes cast in the last general election.
The quest to get casinos approved in Kentucky is nothing new. It’s been floating around the past several years. Governor Steve Beshear has been a strong proponent of the idea, saying it would help to balance the budget and provide more jobs and income for Kentucky communities.
He’s probably right.
Gov. Beshear has also pointed out that many Kentucky residents already head across state lines into Indiana, Illinois and other states with I’s to spend their revenue.
He’s right about that, too.
And he’s said gambling would be a shot in the arm for the state’s equine industry. Under Keene’s bill, according to the representative, 15 percent of each gaming licensee’s gross gaming revenue is to be allocated to the Kentucky Equine Industry Enhancement Fund, a fund to be overseen by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission for the benefit of the equine industry throughout Kentucky including purse supplements, breeder incentive funds, and backside improvements.
They’re probably right about it helping the horse racing industry.
The problem is, should it?
Take out any moral argument about people betting, or well-meaning concerns of gambling addicts who might not have to drive as far to lose their homes. And the debate is whether or not the addition of gambling to the state would equal the economic prosperity promised, and if it would be a blessing for the horse racing industry.
The first is easy. Would it bring in revenue? For casinos, yes. They are cash generators. For casino owners. But don’t expect people going there to be visiting local shops. They aren’t there for that, they’re there to gamble. There’s very little info to substantiate hopes that casinos do anything but spur economic growth for casino owners.
The second part– if it would be a boon to the horse racing industry– is a little trickier.
Equine culture touches every part of the state. Even if you live in Kentucky and have never ridden a horse, you’ve probably been effected by the industry. It employs thousands of Kentucky residents. In 2007, thoroughbred sales at public auction in the state were $1.1 billion. In the same year, a third of total purse money earned by North American-foaled thoroughbreds came from Kentucky breeds.
The horse industry– particularly the racing end– has a long and respectable history in Kentucky.
In recent years, the industry is down. Purse sizes are shrinking, field sizes are down and some tracks expect to continue cutting dates. An infusion of cash siphoned from casinos would help treat the symptoms temporarily. According to advocates, purses in other states continue to grow, bolstered by funds derived from other forms of gaming.
The problem there is if we begin to follow suit, what next? Other states and gaming associations will likely respond in kind if the industry makes a shift back towards Kentucky. Do we just keep following someone else’s lead?
Or, after years of unsuccessfully trying to subsidize Kentucky’s horse racing industry through gambling, is it time to look for a different solution?