Beshear and Fletcher Continue Kentucky Casino Debate

The topic of casino gaming that made for a heated Kentucky gubernatorial primary has continued to be the main force dividing Democratic candidate Steve Beshear and Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher as they look toward the general election in November.

At a Sept. 27 forum on tourism and development in Louisville, Ky., both candidates reiterated their views on the issue.

While Beshear has been saying for months he would actively campaign for a constitutional amendment to allow expanded gambling in Kentucky, Fletcher, who had originally said he would let the state vote on the issue, completely changed his stance this summer.

Though Fletcher has never been a proponent of expanded gaming, last spring he said he would support it if Kentucky voters approved a constitutional amendment. So what made him change his mind?

"(Casinos) are not what we want to do for our future," Fletcher said. "That's not the kind of economic growth we want. We want to create the kind of jobs that are high-tech jobs--the kind that will keep our graduates here. Las Vegas has the highest high school dropout rate in the United States. What happens in Vegas needs to stay in Vegas. It doesn't need to be happening here."

Fletcher said Kentucky should instead raise the focus on existing businesses and continue to diversify the local economy. He listed sporting events, such as the World Equestrian Games coming to Lexington, as major opportunities to bring in more international tourists, as well as those seeking a long-term residence in Kentucky.

Beshear, on the other hand, believes that with casinos the state could raise at least $500 million a year in revenue for various programs. "I just saw (in an online article) that the hottest spots throughout the country in terms of tourism are the places that have casino gaming in relationship to a lot of other tourist attractions," he said.

"It's time to let the people of Kentucky decide whether they want more gaming in the state or whether they don't. If they do, it's going to stimulate the economy in the areas where they are located," said Beshear, adding the number of casinos would be limited to between eight and 12 locations.

"We're going to limit the number of licenses sold, so it's not going to be in anyone's back yard," said Beshear. "(Casinos) will bring tourists in here, and it will induce the convention business and all kinds of good economic activity that will really boost the tourism industry."

Despite the intense debates regarding casinos, neither candidate specifically mentioned racetracks or other aspects of the Kentucky horse industry during the forum.

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