Gaming expansion has been a surprisingly white-hot topic of debate in the gubernatorial race in the Commonwealth of Kentucky as Republican incumbent Matt Bevin and Democrat rival Andy Beshear vie for votes ahead of next Tuesday’s election.
The two candidates are diametrically opposed on the subject, which has come to the forefront during the race as Kentucky looks to find ways to address the state’s pension. According to a December 2018 article in the Louisville Courier Journal, the state pension was underfunded by $43 billion and one of the worst shortfalls in the country.
Beshear, who is also Kentucky’s Attorney General, is in favor of bringing full legalized gambling to the Commonwealth, which currently is comprised of only horse racing and charitable games. During the fourth debate between the candidates Monday night — part of a race that has been at times full of sniping and animosity — Beshear claimed the state could raise $550 million annually in revenue with the introductions of both casinos and sports betting.
“Our plan to address pensions, which starts with expanded gaming, because the Republican governors of Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, West Virginia and Tennessee are taking our dollars every single day and thanking this governor for letting them,” Beshear said in the debate held by Kentucky Educational Television. “We lose over $550 million of revenue every year to those border states just on casinos before sports betting and any or the rest.
“If we expand gaming, we put that money directly to the pension system. That frees up money in the general fund, for education for health care, for job creation. That’s what we ought to be doing and not let other surrounding states eat our lunch any longer.”
Bevin immediately took issue with the $550 million figure in his retort, noting that Beshear has not cited an official study that arrived at that amount and added that “when we started these conversations started a few months ago, it was 200, then 250, then it worked its way up to 500 and now it’s as much as 550 you used a couple of times ago. They are made-up numbers and not corroborated by anything.”
The current governor is staunchly against gaming expansion and garnered national headlines in July from an interview with radio station WKDZ in which he said, “Every night somewhere in America, somebody takes their life in a casino because they’ve wasted the last semblance of dignity and hope they had.”
During the third debate Saturday night, Beshear brought up the statement, which Bevin denied having made, calling it “malarkey.” Beshear then took to social media airing the sound byte the following day and aggressively brought it up again during Monday’s sit-down in the KET studio. Bevin attempted to parse his denial because the Attorney General used the term “casino floor” on Saturday instead of “casino” that the governor stated. When asked by debate moderator Renee Shaw what the difference, Bevin stated there were “casino rooms, parking lots, and atriums” before addressing the televised audience to “go to Google and put ‘hotel’, ‘casino’, ‘suicides’ and Google that up and see what you find.”
The gubernatorial race is one of two key parts of gambling’s future in Kentucky. In addition to the polar opposite positions of the candidates, the calendar also plays a pivotal role in the potential passage of a gaming expansion bill. An odd provision in the state constitution requires a lower threshold of votes for the passage of revenue bills in the House — dropping from 60 percent in odd-numbered years to 51 percent in even-numbered ones.
In 2018, Republican state representative Adam Koenig filed a bill that would have legalized sports betting, daily fantasy sports and online poker that only got out of the regulations committee and was never discussed. This year, Democrat state senator Julian Carroll proposed a sports betting bill that failed to reach committee.
Koenig told SportsHandle in September he would file a bill with joint sponsorship early in the 2020 legislative session, which begins Jan. 7.