Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Salvation at Hand - Casinos

The apparatchiks in the Kentucky House are hard at work on the new "gaming" amendment that the governor is pushing with all the powers of his office, and to whose interests the racing entities have dedicated tens of thousands of dollars. This is the initial wording of the enabling act:

HB 601 establishes KRS Chapter 230A, authorizing casino gambling at seven Kentucky horse racing tracks. It renames the Kentucky Lottery Corporation the Kentucky Gaming and Lottery Corporation, and sets forth its powers and duties related to gaming in Kentucky. The bill creates a Casino Gaming Advisory Committee, and sets out the committee's members, terms, and purpose. It requires the corporation to take all actions necessary to facilitate casino gaming at the earliest feasible time, and sets out the requirements for gaming license applications.

It's obvious that the private gaming entrepreneur, unlike the lottery participants regarding locations and privileges, has the inside track on the financial boom expected in the casino traffic. In fact, there won't be many such "gaming" gurus, only those with the pull and the financial resources to buy the industry fair and square. This translates to the big boys who have shelled out the manifold bank-bags of shekels to the governor's gang. The race-track gang rides again.

Only seven locations for casinos are allowed in HB 601, all at racetracks. This is strange, since the risk-takers might rather be suckered in the halls of lights and cards and dice and roulette wheels than at the betting windows. But, then, that's why the casinos are to be only at the tracks. What's lost on the horse-betting can be recouped in the world of slot machines and games of chance…a definite win-win operation for the friends of the governor…maybe the governor himself. Only the Shadow knows. In the world of the sharks and the suckers, anything goes.

The locations: Churchill Downs, Louisville; Ellis Park, Henderson; Keeneland/Red Mile, Lexington; Kentucky Downs, Franklin; Players Bluegrass Downs, Paducah; Thunder Ridge, Prestonsburg; and Turfway Park, Florence. Louisville, Henderson and Paducah can go head-to-head with the riverboats on the Indiana/Illinois side of the Ohio River. Lexington/Florence will satisfy the "golden triangle" gamers. Franklin will take care of the just-across-the-border Tennessee crowd, and Prestonsburg will cover the golden lode in Pikeville and environs…Virginia and Tennessee.

It remains to be seen if the non-race-track crowd will set up such a howl for a piece of the action that this well-laid plan will have to be changed in order to accommodate them. If they can operate the lottery, then why not be allowed to operate some slot machines? Or, if they can do the lottery business, why can't they do "big" business by setting up casinos or mini-casinos in downtown (or out in the county) in Lexington at new places of sucker-satisfaction or in the many bars and grills already doing lively business…or even in restaurants?

Why not have operations throughout eastern-Kentucky so the miners can lose their stash at roulette instead of every three years in a strike? The big deal in Las Vegas now is to make all the gambling emporiums "family-friendly" so the kids can be entertained while their parents lose their hard-earned cash, with the added benefit that the youngsters get hooked early-on. There's no honor among thieves…in the Kentucky case a new version of horse-thieves.

HB 601 stinks. Those who see gazillions of gobs of greenbacks gathered in for education and other worthy causes, according to the horsy crowd, are in for a rude awakening if the gambling bonanza goes through in most any form. The money so collected will go right into the general fund, a la the lottery windfall back in the 90s, where the solons will put it to good elective use. There's no way they will stipulate in the potential amendment exactly how the proceeds will be handled. They will never tie their hands like that.

According to the Legislative research Commission, the windfall for the state is estimated to be $289 million (35% of gross) per annum, while the windfall to local governments (22.5%) is estimated at $65 million. So…if passed by the legislature and passed by referendum in November, the state will set things straight financially on the backs of the suckers, just like it probably will to a lesser extent on the backs of the smokers. It remains to be seen how far apart HB 601 and its counterpart in the Senate (SB 20) are, but getting them reconciled in this session is a "long shot" – sorry about that.

And so it goes.

Jim Clark

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