Representatives of Kentucky’s horse industry said a strong endorsement of a constitutional amendment on expanded gambling by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Feb. 9 indicates broad support for a statewide vote on the issue.
Racetracks and horsemen’s groups were represented at a press conference in the Capitol rotunda in Frankfort where the chamber announced the “Kentucky Alliance for Jobs,” which has more than 30 members including individuals or organizations in business, labor unions, teachers, local government, and the horse industry.
“We have a very simple goal—let the people decide how to handle this issue of casino gaming,” chamber president and chief executive officer David Adkisson said. “Year after year, the Kentucky chamber has polled business leaders across the state on this issue. And year after year, our members overwhelmingly support expanded gaming and the citizens’ right to vote. We believe it is time to finally put the issue on the ballot.
“This alliance represents the broadest coalition to unite behind a major piece of public policy in Frankfort in more than a decade. And the broad show of support by this alliance is only surpassed by the even broader desire by the public to vote on this issue.”
Adkisson cited a December 2011 poll that indicates 87% of Kentuckians support a referendum on casino gambling regardless of their position on expanded gambling. Democrat Gov. Steve Beshear and Republican Sen. Damon Thayer have fashioned a constitutional amendment that is on hold pending resolution of legislative redistricting and the establishment of the filing deadline for the November 2012 election.
“Kentucky is struggling to hold on to its status as the ‘horse capital of the world’ due to our inability to compete with other racing states that use alternative gaming revenues to increase purses and breeding incentives,” Adkisson said at the well-attended press conference. “We are losing tax dollars, world-class horses and horsemen, and most importantly the jobs that go with them, to these other states. Permitting our citizens to vote on this important issue is a very reasonable economic response.”
Patrick Neely, executive director of the Kentucky Equine Education Project, cited the poll results and noted the diversity of the statewide coalition.
“This is an extremely broad coalition of business, labor, education, and tourism, and certainly representative of the almost 90% of people that want this on the ballot,” Neely said. “This has moved beyond being driven solely by the horse industry.”
“It speaks to the broader appeal of the issue and the impact it has on the state,” said Vince Gabbert, vice president and chief operating officer at Keeneland.
Churchill Downs president Kevin Flanery said Kentuckians realize the importance of protecting one of the state’s signature industries and creating jobs. “This is all positive from my perspective,” he said.
Stu Silberman of the Kentucky Education Action Team and Larry Roberts, state director of the Kentucky State Building and Construction Trades Council, said a gaming referendum has widespread support, and that casinos can create jobs and help fund education.
“We believe that new revenue is needed to adequately fund the needs of our classrooms,” said Silberman, former superintendent of the Fayette County School District.
Adkisson said the coalition is a 501c4, which means it can raise money to promote its agenda. He said it’s not likely much money will be spent because of the short-term nature of the effort to ask lawmakers to put the gambling question on the ballot.
“We’re mainly asking our members to talk to their legislators,” Adkisson said. “But if we need to raise money to get the message out, we will.”
Adkisson and others said there is growing momentum in the General Assembly to pass legislation authorizing a constitutional amendment, but it’s too soon to say there are a definite number of votes. Adkisson also said the chamber hasn’t discussed what it may do should the question make the November ballot.
Beshear has said the ballot question will be “simple” and most likely lacking in details. If voters were to approve casino gambling in the state, the General Assembly would have to approve enabling legislation that would spell out things such as specific locations, revenue percentages, and regulation.
Members of the newly formed “Kentucky Alliance for Jobs” include:
Kentucky Chamber of Commerce
Kentucky Education Action Team
Kentucky State Building & Construction Trades Council
Kentucky Association of Manufacturers
Greater Louisville Inc.
Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce
Kentucky Education Association
Kentucky School Boards Association
Kentucky Association of School Superintendents
Kentucky League of Cities
Kentucky Association of Counties
Kentucky County Judge Executives Association
Louisville Metro Mayor Greg Fischer
Lexington Mayor Jim Gray
United Auto Workers Local 862
Teamsters Local 89
Teamsters Local 783
Kentucky Association for Economic Development
United Food & Commercial Workers
Jefferson County Teachers Association
Kentucky Distillers’ Association
Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau
Kentucky Equine Education Project
Kentucky Equine Health & Welfare Alliance
Kentucky Horse Council
Kentucky Thoroughbred Association