Ky. opens casino hearings

February 27, 2008 12:00 AM
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by Ray Poirier | Hearings on plans proposed to expand gambling in Kentucky are being held this week and both sides of the issue are responding.

Proponents, especially the Kentucky Equine Education Project (KEEP), plan to rally with a horse trailer caravan in Frankfort while the opponents are underscoring the million dollar campaign contribution made to successful gubernatorial candidate Steve Beshear by William Yung III, founder and CEO of embattled Columbia Sussex Corp.

The horse racing interests are looking to add slot machines at four of the state’s racetracks, including famed Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. Their lobbying organization, KEEP, is being chaired by former governor Brereton Jones, a well-known thoroughbred breeder.

Beshear has made legalizing casinos and racinos a centerpiece of his administration. Initially, he proposed seven casinos and five racinos but a legislative committee studying the gambling issue reduced that to five casinos and four racinos.

Those looking to derail the gambling legislation say that Yung, whose gaming license renewal in New Jersey was rejected because of problems Atlantic City has had with the Tropicana Hotel/Casino, made the $1 million contribution to Beshear campaign to insure getting a gaming license in Kentucky.

They pointed out that Yung, a Kentucky native, paid $7 million for a site in northern Kentucky to build a casino.

"It would be naďve 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," said John Hack, head of the anti-gambling group "Say No To Casinos."

"Absolutely, we’re gambling on it (license)," Yung was quoted as saying. He added that he made "no apologies for helping get Steve Beshear elected. I’ve got a First Amendment right to spend my money any way I want to spend it."

In addition to the Tropicana in Atlantic City, Columbia Sussex Corp. owns 12 other casinos and 80 hotels. It employs 35,000 people nationally.

Meanwhile in Massachusetts, another state looking to enter the casino field, the administration of Gov. Leval Patrick has hired a New Jersey company to evaluate its claims about the benefits of Patrick’s plan for three resort casinos.

Given a contract valued at $189,000 was Spectrum Gaming Group LLC.