Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear

Anne M. Eberhardt

Beshear Makes Push for Casino Referendum

The Kentucky governor gave his State of the Commonwealth address Jan. 7.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear Jan. 7 again said the state needs sources of new revenue, one of which is casino gambling.

Beshear, in his "State of the Commonwealth" address given after the first day of the 2014 General Assembly session, discussed casino gambling and tax reform and how they could generate money for education. The governor said education programs are "out of options" when it comes to funding.

"We need more sources of revenue to make needed investments in our future," Beshear said.

He said he would ask the General Assembly to approve a constitutional amendment on expanded gambling.

"Over the years several economic studies of various gaming scenarios have projected potential Kentucky tax revenues in the hundreds of millions of dollars," Beshear said. "But regardless of the amount, allowing gaming is a way to keep Kentucky tax revenue at home, instead of letting Kentuckians' entertainment dollars fund roads and schools in Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia, and other states.

"Now I realize there are many arguments for and against gaming. But there is no reason to deny the people of Kentucky an opportunity to vote 'up' or 'down' on this issue. They want to vote on this issue, and we should let them decide whether to continue allowing Kentucky tax money to flow across our borders or to keep it here at home."

Though Beshear didn't link casino gambling with the horse industry in Kentucky, pre-filed legislation calls for a percentage of casino revenue to support it.

A bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Dan Seum offers a constitutional amendment that mentions state programs that would benefit from gaming revenue but specifically would create an Equine Excellence Fund that would get 10% of gross gaming revenue. The concept had been pushed earlier by Republican Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer.

Seum's bill calls for no more than seven casinos and does not guarantee any to racetracks; that approach is believed to have more support among lawmakers.

Legislation sponsored by Democratic Rep. Larry Clark offers a basic constitutional amendment and places control of the revenue splits in the hands of the General Assembly. The enabling bill states there can be no more than eight casinos, with five at racetracks.

The bill calls for racetrack casinos to set aside 14.35% of gross gaming revenue for the horse industry.

A group called Kentucky Wins! claims more than 56,000 people have joined a coalition that supports a statewide vote on casino gambling. Several lawmakers and state officials are honorary co-chairs of the organization.