A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Lawmakers call Andy Beshear’s renewed push for expanded gaming in Kentucky ‘disappointing’

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

Attorney General and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andy Beshear is banging the gambling drum again in Kentucky.

He sent a two-page letter to lawmakers on Monday with a repeated call for expanded gaming as a way to fund the state’s ailing pension system.

Beshear, who made a similar plea in July when he announced his run for governor, faces an uphill battle in the General Assembly with one Republican lawmaker calling it “disappointing.”

Attorney General Andy Beshear is proposing casino gambling as a way to prop up the state’s ailing pension system. (Photo by Tom Latek, Kentucky Today)

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton, who chairs the Judiciary Committee where an expanded gaming bill could be assigned and who himself is running for attorney general in 2019, said in an interview he is strongly opposed.

“For the chief law enforcement officer of the commonwealth, or a governor, who should be focused almost exclusively on public safety and the well-being of Kentucky, for them to hitch their wagon to something as deceptively bad as gaming, I think is disappointing more than anything else,” he said.

Westerfield also accuses Beshear of riding on the coattails of his father, former Gov. Steve Beshear, who was a proponent of expanded gaming although he could never gain enough support to pass the measure in the General Assembly.

“He is following Dad’s lead on a lot of things,” Westerfield said.

Westerfield said he has read Beshear’s letter to lawmakers a couple times.

“It completely ignores the greater societal costs and the greater cost to the state’s General Fund, because of what’s going to happen to people who are exposed to even more gaming opportunities,” he said.

Westerfield said expanded gaming is not the solution to fund public pensions.

“It bothers me that someone running for governor, it bothers me that the sitting attorney general, would be OK with taking money from the poorest Kentuckians to fund public pensions. That’s not the way it should be.”

Beshear said in his letter that the state’s ailing pension system could receive a needed boost through expanded gaming by creating a dedicated revenue source.

“As attorney general, I took a stand on public pensions earlier this year after lawmakers turned an 11-page sewer bill into a 291-page pension bill and betrayed our state’s promise to our public servants,” Beshear said. “I ask lawmakers to create a dedicated source of revenue for pensions so we don’t have a pension battle each and every session.”

Beshear filed suit against the public pension reform bill voted on by the General Assembly and is awaiting a ruling from the Kentucky Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, he said the answer to the problem could come with revenue from expanded gaming. He estimates Kentuckians spend more than $1 billion of entertainment dollars in bordering states.

He said this approach would then free up other sources of state revenue to fund education, fight the drug epidemic and provide health care.

“The solution is not to cut legally promised benefits,” Beshear said. “The answer should be simple: expanded gaming including casino, fantasy sports and sports gaming, as well as preparing for the eventual legalization of online poker.”

Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has been opposed to legalizing casino gambling.

Blake Brickman, Bevin’s chief of staff, said it’s no surprise Beshear is using his official office to call for a policy which is also conveniently part of his campaign platform.

“If Beshear had any clue about the pension crisis, caused in large part by his father’s gross mismanagement of the system, he would know that funding alone will not solve the problem,” Brickman said. “Even the KEA and the Superintendents Association have supported some structural changes to the system.

“Gov. Bevin is the only governor to commit to fixing the pension crisis by fully funding the system and calling for necessary reforms to ensure that Kentucky can deliver on the promises made to retirees and current state workers.”

Even some members of Beshear’s party aren’t sold on expanded gaming as a cure to the pension system’s woes.

“I think dedication of potential revenue is necessary and the more specific, the better,” said state Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson. “In political analysis and reality, it will probably appeal to stakeholders. (But) From a budget analysis or to predicate a budget, I have never liked to rely on gaming revenue to solve any issue. Socio-economic costs are difficult to quantify, but they are real.”

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