Billy Reed: A case for casino gambling in Kentucky

Billy Reed: A case for casino gambling in Kentucky
Billy Reed

LOUISVILLE (WAVE) — We all know that our city and commonwealth are hurting for revenue. Well, I have an idea that could help us get out of the trap, provided we can get the Governor and state legislature off their hypocritical stance about gambling.

In May, 2024, Louisville will become one of the first, and maybe even the only, mid-sized cities to host two international sporting events the same month.

On the first Saturday in May, the 150th Kentucky Derby will be held at Churchill Downs. Two or three weeks later, the 106th PGA Championship will take place at Valhalla.

Imagine, if you will, all the big-time spenders who will be in Louisville that month. They will come from all over the world, bringing their huge bankrolls with them. If Louisville had a world-class casino downtown, the level of gambling would literally generate millions in tax revenue for the city and state.

You thought Gov. Steve Beshear, who was elected in 2007 on a pro-expanded gambling platform, screwed it up so badly that Kentucky never will have casino gambling while Indiana and Ohio build schools and roads with the money their casinos make off Kentucky gamblers?

Well, I disagree. I think Louisville can have casino gambling up and running well before May 2024, the month the city will become the world’s sports hub for a couple of weeks.

Casino gambling would be far more profitable than legalized sports gambling, upon which the legislature punted during its most recent session. It also should be more palatable to those who have moral reservations about legalized gambling on college sports.

For Louisville to get a casino — better late than never — a couple of things need to happen.

First, the legislature must be convinced to make expanded gambling a local-option issue, just as it did years ago with alcohol. In other words, let the voters in each county decide whether they want it or not.

That means the right-wing religious counties are free to vote it down. By the same token, the counties that are home to Louisville, Lexington, Newport, Covington, Paducah and other larger cities can approve it if they wish.

Sounds simple, right?

Well, it is. But our current Governor, Matt Bevin, doesn’t see it that way. He objects on moral grounds, which plays well with his rural right-wing base. So if he is re-elected, we can kiss my idea good-bye.

I don’t see casino gambling be in direct competition with our signature Thoroughbred industry. In fact, I’d hope that Churchill, Keeneland, Turfway and Ellis Park all would apply for casino licenses.

But in the interest of making the most revenue possible, the state also would be allowed to take bids from Harrah’s, Caesar’s, and all the others who run casino gambling in Las Vegas and other cities around the world.

The winning bidder, as selected by a commission that would either by new or affiliated with either the Lottery Commission or the Kentucky State Racing Commission, would be responsible for finding and submitting a site for the casino that would be subject to the commission’s approval.

I’m sure there are a lot of politicians and moralists out there who will try to tell us why casino gambling is a bad idea for Kentucky, and why it can’t be done. But I don’t believe them. It can be done if we elect leaders with the will to get it done.

Louisville mayor Greg Fischer is an outspoken advocate for casino gambling. As everybody knows, he has been forced to slash services and jobs because the city doesn’t have enough revenue.

“We have left millions on the table because we didn’t pass it years ago,” Fischer said. “Our citizens want it. Just go through the parking lot at one of the casinos across the river and see how many Kentucky license plates you see.”

Of course, he is right.

Considering Kentucky’s long history of gambling on horse racing, it seemed the Commonwealth would have been among the first state to legalize casino gambling. Instead, we have gotten ourselves in a trap where the rural areas of the state can dictate what the cities do.

And did I mention hypocrisy? In many of the rural counties opposed to casino gambling, the local gas stations and convenience stores do a brisk business in lottery-ticket sales.

The only possible conclusion is that many of our citizens don’t see the lottery as gambling. But it is, and it’s the worst gamble of all. It’s critics view it as a regressive tax on the poor, and they make a fairly compelling case.

Granted, if we elect leaders who want to breathe new life back into the casino-gambling movement, we will be playing catch-up ball. Still, it’s not too late. Louisville could have a world-class casino in place well before the huge month of May, 2024.

If anybody has a better idea that would generate more revenue, I’d sure like to see it.

Billy Reed is a longtime sportswriter from Louisville who contributes regular columns to WAVE3.com.

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