Casino gambling bill to rise again

It’s like something in one of those zombie series that are taking over television. It just won’t die.

We’re talking about casino gambling bills in the Kentucky Legislature. It’s only September. The next legislative session doesn’t convene until early next year. But already Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo of Prestonsburg says he will yet again file a bill seeking a referendum on an amendment to the Kentucky Constitution to permit casinos in the state.

This latest version has some new twists. Stumbo proposes a maximum of seven casino licenses for the state – one for each of Kentucky’s six congressional districts and one “at-large” license. The casinos could only be in counties with populations of at least 55,000 people, and would have to be OKed through a local referendum.

The population restriction would effectively limit eligibility for casinos to 16 of Kentucky’s 120 counties. In far western Kentucky only McCracken and Christian counties would qualify.

That’s a switch from the legislation that failed in this year’s session. That bill would have allowed six casinos, with none to be permitted in counties with fewer than 85,000 people. That would have meant no casinos in McCracken County, or anywhere in far western Kentucky.

We’re sure there’s some political calculation in the population limits, but it is a curious twist. Many states, Illinois among them, initially designated casino eligibility to small communities in economically challenged regions. That’s how Metropolis wound up with a riverboat casino license when Illinois first went down the gambling path.

Stumbo makes the usual arguments for bringing casino gambling to the state. The tax money from casinos would be designated to several causes, some noble, others politically advantageous. Specifically Stumbo’s latest proposal says 40 percent of the money would go to elementary and secondary education; 30 percent to postsecondary education; 20 percent to the state’s retirement systems or “any other public purpose as the General Assembly may decide”, and 10 percent to bolster the horse racing industry.

Stumbo argues that expanded gambling has already arrived in Kentucky by way of the constitutionally dubious “instant racing” being conducted at two Kentucky racetracks. The games, which operate on slot machine-like devices called VLTs, have generated more than $1 billion in wagering since being rolled out in September of 2011.

We’ve opposed past casino gambling bills and we won’t support this one either. Our objection is not puritanical. Rather, we think philosophically it is simply the wrong way for the state to raise money to fund its needs. We also are skeptical that gambling will generate the sorts of windfalls legislators are counting on given the oversaturation of casinos across the region and the United States.

We also think that though the current measure purports to limit the extent of state-sponsored gambling that would be allowed in Kentucky, the experience of other states suggests it would only be a matter of time before dependence on the revenue would lead to wall-to-wall gaming in the state.

Of course our arguments aren’t new either. And our guess is that the gaming bill will endure the same fate next year as in previous sessions — dying, but returning eternally as zombie legislation.

The Paducah Sun

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