Beshear calls for 12 casinos, 1 in Lexington

FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear released his plan for a constitutional amendment yesterday that calls for 12 casinos in Kentucky, including one shared between Keeneland and Red Mile racetracks in Lexington.

The amendment would allow up to seven licenses for horse racing tracks to add casino gambling and up to five separate casinos in the state. If passed by the General Assembly, the amendment would be placed on the ballot for Kentucky voters.

Beshear’s bill would allocate 50 percent of casino revenue to education at all levels, from early childhood to postsecondary. Health care would receive 20 percent of the revenue, city and county programs would receive 5 percent each, local governments would receive 3 percent, and the remaining 17 percent would go to statewide programs.

The plan would raise $500 million in revenue between July 2008 and June 2009 from application and license fees, Beshear said yesterday. After the casinos are up and running, Beshear said the limited gaming would bring in $600 million per year.

Money from casino gaming would help fill gaps in state revenue, which Beshear has said would be about $580 million less in the first year of the 2008-10 budget biennium than the state is spending now.

However, critics of Beshear’s plan say the revenue may come with drawbacks that impact the entire state.

“Yeah, we’re losing money out of state, but we could be losing companies and employees that want to be somewhere that doesn’t have casinos,” said the Rev. Nancy Jo Kemper, executive director of the Kentucky Council of Churches.

Kemper said she fears that legalized gambling will enable outside companies to take the new casino revenue and “get rich off of the people of Kentucky.” She also said casinos could cause Kentucky’s unemployed to think gambling will help them escape debt.

“Most of the people don’t understand what they’re going to be deciding on,” Kemper said. “They don’t understand the Pandora’s box they would be opening.”

Beshear also proposed that the five freestanding casinos would be located in Kenton or Campbell, Boyd or Greenup, Laurel or Whitley, Daviess and Christian counties. Each proposed casino location would have a local referendum placed on ballots so voters could decide whether to allow a freestanding casino in their city or county.

Sen. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville, will sponsor the bill to allow the amendment to be put on a ballot, and Rep. Charlie Hoffman, D-Georgetown, will sponsor the legislation for how the casinos will be set up, Beshear said.

House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, said he would support the legislation but does not want the specific percentages to be part of the constitutional amendment. The legislature should pass the bills after they have been altered in committees, he said.

“Polls show that the people of Kentucky want to vote on that constitutional amendment,” Richards said.

Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington said the wording of what Kentuckians would vote on is biased because it leads with what would benefit from the increase in revenue. If Beshear’s language is approved by the legislature, voters would be asked to answer whether they would be “in favor of increasing state financial support for elementary and secondary education, expanding health care for senior citizens, children and others, support for local governments, and combating drug and alcohol abuse and other important programs” by allowing limited casino gaming.

The casino bills would not pass if they were up for a vote right now, Lee said. Talks behind closed doors will create a “carrot-and-stick” situation, where legislators who fall in line are rewarded and those who don’t are punished, he said.

“The carrots have been thrown out,” he said, “and I’m sure if the carrots don’t work, the sticks will come out behind closed doors in the next few days.”