Williams reported significant personal gambling in 2003 divorce papers

Divorce cites 4 years' activity by foe of expanded gaming

bestep@herald-leader.comApril 2, 2011 

Senate President David Williams


State Senate President David Williams, who has publicly opposed expanded gambling in Kentucky since at least 2002, has reported significant personal gambling activity in the past.

Williams reported gambling losses of $36,147 in the four-year period from 1999 to 2002, according to a document filed in his divorce case in 2003.

In order to report those losses for tax purposes, Williams had to have won a greater amount than he lost, according to the document.

Depositions that may include more details about his gambling are sealed, according to the circuit court clerk's office in Cumberland County, where the divorce case was filed.

Williams, a Republican who is seeking his party's nomination for governor, told the Herald-Leader on Friday he does not have the authority to unseal the depositions.

While he would not object to the statements being unsealed, he would not try to force the issue in court, he said.

However, he said he does not have the authority to release them and would not ask that they be unsealed, given that he was not the only party to the case.

Danny Butler, a Greensburg attorney who represented Williams' ex-wife, Elaine, in the divorce, was not available for comment Friday.

Expanded gambling has been a contentious issue in Kentucky for several years.

Many in the Thoroughbred industry have pushed for the addition of slot machines, video lottery terminals or casinos at racetracks in order to bring more money into the state to help the industry.

Kentucky has lost horses, breeding stock and race dates at tracks as other states have used money from expanded gambling to boost purses and incentive funds for breeders, said Patrick Neely, executive director of the Kentucky Equine Education Project.

"The clear fact is that Kentucky's horse industry is operating at a severe competitive disadvantage," Neely said.

Opponents have fought hard against expanded gambling, saying slots and casinos could feed addiction, and arguing that gambling is not a good source of money for state programs.

Many in Kentucky also oppose gambling on moral grounds.

Williams has been a key opponent of expanded gambling in the state.

Williams said casinos do not create good jobs, and that casino interests can be a negative influence in state politics.

He also said that expanded gambling at racetracks takes attention away from racing.

"I firmly believe that an expansion of gambling is not in the best interest of the people of Kentucky," Williams said Friday.

That position is not inconsistent with his personal patronage of casinos in the past, Williams said.

Williams said he has long acknowledged gambling at tracks and casinos. However, he said he had not gone to a casino for several years.

One reason was that he saw the greed of gambling interests and what they were willing to do, he said.

Williams said he did not want to contribute to the cause of those interests by spending money at casinos.

Williams faces Louisville businessman Phil Moffett and Jefferson County Clerk Bobbie Holsclaw in the May 17 GOP primary.

Moffett has said that if he is elected, once his plan to lower taxes is approved, he would be willing to have state residents vote on whether to approve expanded gambling.

Moffett's campaign manager, David Adams, said Friday there were bigger concerns in the race than Williams' gambling, including Williams' votes to raise taxes and the state's debt.

"How Williams wants to spend his inheritance is between him and his family," Adams said.

Mike Karem, a consultant for Holsclaw, said Holsclaw believes the question of whether there should be expanded gambling in Kentucky should be left up to voters.

If voters approve, however, Holsclaw believes businesses other than horse tracks should be able to take part "so everyone has a chance to get the revenue from it," Karem said.

Gov. Beshear, who is unopposed for the Democratic nomination, has been a strong backer of expanded gambling in Kentucky, arguing it would help the horse industry and the state's finances.

Williams said he does not see gambling as a moral issue, but rather a public policy issue.

He said he has never had a gambling problem.

The document filed in his divorce said Williams reported losing $17,889 in 1999, the year before he became Senate president; $3,445 in 2000; $9,500 in 2001; and $5,313 in 2002.

His winnings would have exceeded those amounts in each of those years.

That $17,889 figure sounds like a big number, Williams said, but noted it could have involved several trips to gambling venues.

The attorney for Williams' ex-wife cited the figures in a document that included arguments about the senator's assets.

Williams suggested including the figures on gambling in the document was an attempt to embarrass him or paint him as a big gambler.

"I don't think that makes me a big gambler," he said.

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