Steve Beshear

Steve Beshear

David Perry

Beshear Is New Kentucky Governor

Support of casino referendum key issue.

Democrat Steve Beshear, who supports a referendum on casino gambling and made it part of his campaign, easily won the race for governor of Kentucky in the Nov. 6 election.

Through most of the evening, Beshear held a 20% advantage over incumbent Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher. From the summer through early fall, many polls put Beshear about 20 points ahead of Fletcher.

Just before 9 p.m. EST, Fletcher gave a concession speech that was broadcast on Kentucky Educational Television. At that time, Beshear had about 560,000 votes (59%) to Fletcher’s 390,000 votes (41%).

Beshear early on said he would push for a public vote on casino gambling -- much of it at racetracks -- to raise about $500 million in revenue per year for the state. Fletcher through most of his four-year term indicated he didn’t support a gambling expansion but wouldn’t oppose a public vote. After the primary election, however, Fletcher said he would oppose any vote on casino gambling.

Various polls in Kentucky have reflected a strong desire by the public to vote on casino gambling in a referendum. But whether casinos would be strongly supported at the polls, perhaps as soon as November 2008, remains to be seen; the poll numbers are much closer in that regard.

Beshear’s support for expanded gambling is only part of the equation. The state General Assembly -- the House is controlled by Democrats and the Senate by Republicans -- must first pass legislation to put the question on the ballot. Then, after a campaign that no doubt would attract tens of millions of dollars from gambling interests on both sides, the ballot measure would have to pass.

In 2006, the Kentucky Equine Education Project lobbied for a constitutional amendment on racetrack casinos, but the legislature balked. In the end, the legislation included a number of non-racetrack gambling locations, and some lawmakers opposed the KEEP plan to include dedicated revenue percentages on the ballot question.

Racetrack gaming has fueled substantial purse increases at tracks in several states but for the most part has done little to generate public interest in horse racing in those markets. Legislation to authorize slot machines or video lottery terminals at tracks in other states provides a percentage of gaming revenue for purses and breed development but little if any dedicated funds for the marketing and promotion of racing.