Kentucky casino fight rages

Jan 8, 2008 5:32 AM

It’s called the "Bluegrass State" because of its national image as the home of thoroughbred horses and racing, particularly at famed Churchill Downs whose internationally-known racing event is the Kentucky Derby.

But, like states such as Maryland and Massachusetts, some of its lawmakers believe that the gaming menu needs to be expanded, either with racetrack slots or with full-fledged casinos. And, just like in the others states, the battle now rages.

Newly-elected Gov. Steve Beshear campaigned on the promise to fight for expanded gambling. His opponent, the previous incumbent, did all he could to stop gambling movements in its tracks.

Beshear argues that hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians gamble at casinos perched along the border in Indiana and Illinois, which fill their cash registers with gambling revenues. The revenues also help the states reduce budget requirements. The same arguments are being used in Massachusetts, whose residents help keep the two tribal casinos in Connecticut luxury, and in Maryland, whose residents patronize racinos in Delaware and Pennsylvania.

However, Beshear, a Democrat, faces strong opposition from lawmakers who have been debating this same gambling issue for several years.

David Williams, a Republican who is president of the state senate, recently remarked, "I see very little support in the House or the Senate at this juncture for an expansion of gaming."

And his anti-gaming backers have been receiving strong support from church groups including the Kentucky Council of Churches.

Still investors remain hopeful that tracks such as Churchill Downs, whose biggest competitor for the gaming dollar stands just across the river in Indiana, the Caesars riverboat, owned by Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. (HET). Shares of Churchill Downs Inc. (CHDN) have stayed near its 52-week high of $57.55, despite a recent major downturn in gaming stocks.