A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Kentucky’s gubernatorial race could determine the future of push for expanded gaming in the state

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

Expanded gaming, including legalizing casinos and sports wagering, is likely to come up again during the 2020 General Assembly, but how hard it will be pushed depends on who wins the Governor’s race this November.

Sen. Julian Carroll, D-Frankfort, sponsored a bill during this year’s session to legalize sports wagering, but it did not receive a committee hearing in the Senate. He is proposing similar legislation for 2020.

Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, was joined by 20 co-sponsors in a bill during the 2019 session that would allow betting on sports contests, internet poker and fantasy sports contests. It won unanimous approval from the House Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee, but was never brought up for a vote on the House floor. Thus far, he has not yet proposed similar legislation for 2020.

Gubernatorial candidates Matt Bevin, left, and Andy Beshear have different thoughts on expanded gaming. (KT file photos)

Rep. Al Gentry, D-Louisville, introduced a proposed Constitutional Amendment providing for casino gambling, which was never heard in a House committee. That was the same story for casino legislation sponsored by Rep. Dennis Keene, D-Wilder. Keene is proposing similar legislation for the 2020 session.

Most of the bills would earmark at least a portion of proceeds to address the unfunded liability of Kentucky’s public pension systems.

As expected, Kentucky’s Republican and Democratic Gubernatorial candidates find themselves lining up on opposite sides of the issue.

Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear has often said he supports expanded gaming.

“Kentucky can’t afford to fall behind our neighboring states who are moving forward with the rest of the country on expanded gaming,” Beshear said. “We lose out on hundreds of millions of dollars a year. As governor, I will work to legalize sports betting, casinos, fantasy sports and prepare for online poker, and use the revenue from these activities as a dedicated funding stream for our public pension system.”

Beshear also says he would support a Constitutional Amendment legalizing medical marijuana.

“I would vote for it because I’ve seen the impact opioids have had on every Kentucky community. So many Kentucky families have seen a loved one fall into addiction, and their lives have been devastated. If medical marijuana is an alternative and gives people the chance to get pain relief without being subjected to opioids, I think it’s something we’ve got to explore.”

Republican incumbent Matt Bevin said during a recent radio interview that he opposes both expanded gaming and legalizing marijuana.

“Every night, somewhere in America, somebody takes their life in a casino, because they’ve wasted the last semblance of dignity and hope that they had. Families are ruined, lives are ruined. There is a societal cost, and there is no political appetite for this in Kentucky.”
Even if there were no negatives with casino gambling, Bevin said the math doesn’t work there.

“The idea that we could make maybe $200 million a year with casino gambling taxes, means there are billions being spent that might better be spent somewhere else,” Bevin said. “If we all wanted to gamble and smoke pot at the same time, it would still be 200 years, just to earn the money we already owe today. These are not serious solutions.”

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