Herald-Leader Editorial

Let's settle the casino question

Allow voters to weigh in at the polls

February 16, 2012 

Expanded gambling has been a part of Kentucky's political discussion for the better part of 20 years.

For much of that time, poll results have indicated a large majority of Kentuckians think they should decide the issue by voting on a constitutional amendment.

In a recent survey conducted for the state's racetracks, 87 percent of likely voters in this year's elections held that opinion.

For several years, this editorial page maintained that same position for a variety of reasons.

Besides being a more politically acceptable route to take, an amendment seemed to us the best way to limit the number of casinos or slots facilities in the state.

It also was the best way to ensure some of the revenue generated from such an expansion helped Kentucky's Thoroughbred racing industry compete with its counterparts in states where purses and breeding incentives are supplemented by other forms of gambling.

A couple of years ago, we concluded that the racing industry's future looked sufficiently grim in the absence of some similar supplements here to prompt us to change our position and support the approval of racetrack slots by statute as the quickest means to the desired end of offering one of the state's signature industries some relief.

But statutory approval of racetrack slots didn't happen, and the discussion now has returned to a constitutional amendment. Specifically, the current discussion concerns the proposed amendment introduced this week by Republican state Sen. Damon Thayer and backed by Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear.

If an amendment is the option of the moment, we're fine with it. Our concern is the future of Thoroughbred racing as this state has known it for several decades — a year-round circuit that provides thousands of Kentuckians year-round employment.

If an inability to compete with tracks in "racino" states causes one of Kentucky's tracks to close, thereby breaking this circuit, the people involved in small and mid-sized racing operations will start looking elsewhere for year-round employment. And Kentucky — all of Kentucky — will be the worse for it.

Thayer's proposed amendment simply puts before voters the question of whether the legislature should approve licensing up to seven casinos with up to five of those licenses going to Kentucky racetracks.

If the answer is yes, we'll move on to the discussion of how the licensing process and regulation of those casinos will be handled.

While there's room for debate of the specifics of any amendment, it's time —way past time — for a decision on expanded gambling.

Some form of an amendment needs to be on the ballot come November so voters can fulfill their desire to settle the question.

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