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Kentucky on fast track for slots

Jan 27, 2009 5:08 PM
by Ray Poirier |

If there is a race among states looking to reduce budgetary deficits by expanding gaming, Kentucky probably is in the lead.

Based on the reaction to a proposal heard last week that would install video lottery machines in the commonwealth’s horse tracks, Kentucky is on a fast track to gaming expansion. The bill, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Greg Stumbo, the new Speaker of the House, was unopposed.

The Stumbo bill proposes that the Kentucky Lottery Corp. would oversee slots at the tracks and that there would be no constitutional amendment required. In past elections, gaming referendums have been rejected by the voters.

The bill projects that after five years of operation, the machines would contribute some $1.2 billion to the general funds.

But revenue wasn’t the only motivation behind the VLT legislation. Of strong concern is the impact that slots at other tracks have been having on the state’s racing quality. It is hoped that the legislation would help the state maintain its national position as a leader in the industry.

"Other states have seen this (VLT gaming) as a good industry to have," said Nick Nicholson, president of Keeneland Race Course.

"The reality is while growth has been going on in other states, we have been stagnant. Kentucky is on the verge of being overtaken by other states," he warned.

He said the industry has forecast that within two years the states on the East Coast that have permitted the VLT installations will have resources exceeding $1.2 billion while the slowing business in Kentucky will mean smaller purses as wagering declines.

Although there was no opposition expressed to the bill at the hearing, it was noted by other legislators that the bill probably will be modified when it comes forward during the first week of February. Discussion will center on just how much each track should pay the state in order to receive the VLT approval. Indications were that the suggested license fee of $25,000 was far too little.

Other states considering expanding gambling are Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Ohio and even Alabama where a recent survey among voters indicated a favorable attitude.

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