States turn to gaming for revenue

Feb 19, 2008 6:12 AM

There are big bucks to be made from gaming legislation (just ask Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell) so it’s no surprise that more states are looking at the possibility of approving casinos in their states.

But, what’s the answer: more casino licenses or a restricted number of licenses?

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has proposed limiting casino licenses to three while Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear sees the need for 12 licenses, seven for the existing racetracks and five stand alone casinos on the state’s borders with Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia.

Both plans have triggered major opposition.

Patrick’s plan would place casinos in the Boston area, in the middle of the state and on the western edge near the New York state border. And even that is one license too many says Massachusetts native Sheldon Adelson, chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp.

If the casino proposal can get past stalwart gaming expansion opponents, such as House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, there will be additional battles from Native American tribes that will be looking for casinos of their own.

Beshear is trying to overturn gaming opposition that existed for the past dozen years.

The newly-elected Democrat made the casino issue the centerpiece of his campaign last year when he took on former Gov. Ernie Fletcher, a major gambling opponent. Beshear was a clear winner but political activists insist it was not because of the gambling issue.

"We’ve been wrestling with this issue for over a decade now," Beshear stated, "It’s been debated and discussed but it has never been finally decided, and I think it is time to finally let the people decide this issue."

He said his proposal would generate $600 million a year in additional revenue for state government after all the casinos are fully operating. He said the proposal also would generate $500 million upfront application and licensing fees in 2009 and $300 million in 2010.

Politically-powerful Sen. Charlie Borders, chairman of the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee, said the $1 billion to $2 billion that Kentuckians would have to lose in casinos to generate the revenue that Beshear is projecting is money that would be diverted from retail businesses around the state.

"In my opinion, this would be devastating to the commonwealth. I don’t see where the votes will come from. We have very few members, in my opinion, who will bend to pressure," he added.

Also joining the fight against the proposed constitutional amendment is the Kentucky Council of Churches. Rev. Nancy Jo Kemper, Council’s head, called the plan "totally dishonest."