Kentucky Casino Amendment (2008)

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Kentucky's Casino Amendment is a failed legislatively-referred ballot measure intended to amend the constitution to allow twelve casinos in Kentucky, seven in communities that already contain racetracks and five more in locations on Kentucky's border counties.[1] It was uveiled by Governor Steve Beshear on February 14th, 2008.

Support

The amendment was proposed by Governor Steve Beshear and sponsored by Rep. Darryl Owens. Beshear predicted that the amendment would generate $828.7 million in license fees and, after fiver years, the casinos would generate approximately $600 million annually from wagering taxes.[2]

House Democratic Whip Rob Wilkey supported the amendment, but implied it would undergo changes, stating, "I think [Governor Beshear] has done a great job putting together this legislation to begin with. As you know, when you file a bill, it's the beginning of a long journey."[3]

The Kentucky Equine Education Project, along with various chambers of commerce and unionized food workers, formed a coalition called Let Kentucky Vote! to encourage legislators to put the amendment on the ballot and allow the citizens of Kentucky to vote on it. The organization believes that "revenues from expanded gaming should be used to improve our educational system, healthcare for our citizens, infrastructure projects and economic development...."[4]

On February 20 2008, the Young Professionals Association of Louisville endorsed casino gambling in Kentucky, stating that it would ensure that "funds for new projects that support the state's educational needs, economic vitality, competitiveness and quality of life are available."[5]

Opposition

The proposed amendment faced immediate opposition from members of the legislature. Some argued that the casinos would do an injustice to the impoverished members of the community. Rep. Greg Stumbo stated, "I can't be for a casino in Floyd County....Our population is too poor to support a casino."

Senate President David Williams said the bill had no chance, stating that "[Governor Beshear] can push, he can threaten, he can coerce and he can have his people come down here and do whatever he wants to, but it's never going to pass."[6] Others argued that the proposed tax rate for casinos--50.65%--would prevent them from being competitive.[7]

Another source of controversy was the wording of the bill, which was 93 words in length when proposed and began by identifying popular state programs that would benefit from the tax on casinos, asking if voters are "in favor of increasing state financial support for elementary and secondary education, expanding health care for senior citizens, children and others." The bill did not mention casinos until the 48th word. Gov. Beshear defended the wording, stating that he did not believe it was misleading. Senate President David Williams disagreed, saying, "If the wording of constitutional amendments could be held to a fraud-in-advertising standard, this would be fraud in advertising. Who has ever heard of such wording? Are you for education, are you for the good fairy, are you for all these wonderful things?" Even Rep. Darryl Owens, who sponsored the amendment, joked that it seemed to ask if voters supported "God, motherhood and the American flag." He went on to say that, "[The language] is what the governor has proposed. We'll take a look at it and work it through the legislative process. And whether the final legislative product has that, we'll just have to wait and see."[8]

Many religious leaders in Kentucky also spoke out against the bill. Rev. Nancy Jo Kemper said that Kentucky could not afford twelve casinos, calling the number "over the top." She also argued that the amendment might not have a positive impact on Kentucky's economy, expressing the possibility that some industries would "like to locate in a state that doesn't have casinos." Ed Monahan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, supported Gov. Beshear's efforts to find new sources of revenue, but said that the Catholic Conference believes there are better, less controversial ways to raise revenue than gambling. Rev. Herschel Walker of Hopewell Baptist Church said he was "dead against it" and that the increase in gambling would cost business owners.[9]

The organization Women Against Gambling Expansion (WAGE) formed to oppose the proposal. WAGE is a coalition of women and women's organizations from across Kentucky.[10][11] The proposal was also opposed by Say No to Casinos, an educational organization of the Family Trust Foundation of Kentucky.

Status

As of February 15, the bill was still being debated in the legislature. Speaker of the House Jody Richards said the bill will be moved quickly, with a vote most likely taking place before the end of February.[12]

On February 19, the House casinos subcommittee approved an edited version of the proposal offered by Rep. Joni Jenkins. The new proposal reduced the number of casinos from 12 to nine and included a provision to allow local governments to have a say in allowing casinos at racetracks but requiring free-standing casinos to be approved by the voters of the community where the site would be. Rep. Larry Clark commented that the new proposal was "better," but still needed work.[13]

On February 26, a committee in the House passed the bill with a vote of 7-2, but only after the House Speaker dismissed one representative from the committee and added two members who supported the bill. The bill will now go to the full House of Representatives, where it will need 60 votes of approval in order to pass. Speaker of the House Jody Richards has said that he will not call for a vote until he has the necessary votes lined up.[14][15]

On March 4, Governor Beshear told reporters that the initiative still lacks the necessary votes to clear the House, but appeared to remain optimistic, stating, "We all agree that at the moment we're not there...[b]ut we're still hopeful that we can come up with the votes necessary." He claimed the measure currently had support from over 50 House members. House Speaker Jody Richards stated that the measure would have trouble if the necessary support wasn't raised within a week. Senate President David Williams has said that even if the measure is approved by the House, it won't clear the Senate.[16]

In the end, the proposed amendment "crumbled"[17] due to a lack of support after changes made by the House committee. Beshear has since been quiet on the issue of bringing casinos to Kentucky. Beshear's chief of staff, Jim Cauley, has said that Beshear hasn't "chosen a path yet" on how to re-approach the issue.[18]

Controversy

Coverage of the proposal led to controversy surrounding William Yung III, a wealthy casino operator who contributed $1 million to Bluegrass Freedom Fund, a political group that campaigned for Gov. Beshear. In January, Yung bought a $7 million plot of land in Northern Kentucky where he will open a casino if Beshear's bill is approved.

Yung made no apologies for the contribution and claimed he was merely exercising his First Amendment rights. John Mark Hack, head of Say No to Casinos, disagrees, arguing that it would be "naive for anybody to believe that a $1 million contribution to a fund that helped elect a pro-casino governor is not going to position the contributor in a favorable way."[19]

Legislators in the House of Representatives disagreed over how many casinos should be authorized and how the licenses should be awarded. One faction, led by the horse industry, wants a guarantee that all five state race tracks will receive licenses. "To take something that was motivated by helping the industry and turning it into something that can be detrimental to the industry is a little beyond me," said Rep. David Osbourne, a Republican horse owner. Another faction, led by the union-leaning leadership in the House, wants licenses auctioned to the highest bidders regardless of where casinos are located. "I think anybody -- Republican or Democrat -- who may have been thinking of voting for the constitutional amendment can clearly see...what a zoo this situation has become," said House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover.[20]

External links

References

  1. Casino bill faces fight in legislature, communities - Courier-Journal.com by Joseph Gerth, Feb. 15, 2008
  2. Casino bill faces scorn, trims - Kentucky.com by John Stamper and Jack Brammer, Feb. 16, 2008
  3. Casino bill faces fight in legislature, communities - Courier-Journal.com by Joseph Gerth, Feb. 15, 2008
  4. Let Kentucky Vote!
  5. YPAL endorses casino gambling in Kentucky Business First of Louisville, Feb. 20, 2008
  6. Casino bill faces fight in legislature, communities - Kentucky.com by Joseph Gerth, Feb. 15, 2008
  7. Casino bill faces scorn, trims - Kentucky.com by John Stamper and Jack Brammer, Feb. 16, 2008
  8. Wording of ballot question draws criticism - Courier-Journal.com by Tom Loftus, Feb. 15, 2008
  9. Casino bill faces fight in legislature, communities - Courier-Journal.com by Joseph Gerth, Feb. 15, 2008
  10. Protest doesn't stop progress on Kentucky's casino bill by Mark Schnyder, WAVE 3 TV Louisville, Feb. 19 2008
  11. Women against gambling (dead link) by Patrick Crowley, nky.com, Feb. 11, 2008
  12. Some in House call 12 sites too many - Courier-Journal.com by Tom Loftus, Feb. 16, 2008
  13. Casino measure gets first round of tweaking - Kentucky.com by Ryan Alessi, Feb. 20, 2008
  14. Kentucky Casino Fight Heats Up WKRC-TV Cincinatti, Feb. 28, 2008
  15. Committee passes Ky. casino bill in second vote by Matt Hegarty, ESPN, Feb. 28, 2008
  16. Ky. Casino Proposal Still Shy of Votes by Joe Biesk, Chron.com, Associated Press, March 5, 2008
  17. Proposed bill allows slots at racetracks by Ryan Alessi, Kentucky.com, Jun. 13, 2008
  18. Beshear quiet, for now, on casinos by Ryan Alessi, Kentucky.com, Jun. 23, 2008
  19. Casino mogul goes all-in for Kentucky support (dead link) Chron.com, Feb. 22, 2008
  20. Beshear still committed on casino bill kentucky.com, March 2, 2008