Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Casino's Hope...the Guv

Everyone is poised in the Kentucky Legislature for the grand introduction any day now of the governor's recommendation in the wording of an amendment to the state Constitution regarding his long advertised recipe for tax windfalls in the hundreds of millions – CASINOS AS SALVATION. In other words, get rich off the backs of the suckers!

There's already been a bill in the House and a bill of sorts in the Senate, though neither will come close to the governor's. 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.

This could be called the "Horsy Bill," since it would confine casinos only to racetracks and therefore enrich the horse-operators while at the same time denying any competition from anyone else's blackjack table or roulette wheels or slot gallery, where the little old blue-haired ladies in pink jogging suits get their only exercise by pushing coins or buttons or (gasp) maybe even pulling a lever. What the tracks lose at the betting windows can be recouped in the "gaming" area…and vice versa. It's a win-win for the tracks.

The Senate version, SB 20, – at least the introduction – is a verbose quagmire that covers about every subject imaginable. Here is just a part having to do with distribution of proceeds: create the Kentucky gaming account, the Kentucky municipal public safety account, the Kentucky county public safety account, the Kentucky horse racing equity account, and the Kentucky thoroughbred claiming account; require that certain amounts of the gaming account support administrative operations of the commission, and other amounts from the gaming account be dispersed to the Kentucky Compulsive Gamblers Assistance Account, the Department of Education, the Council on Postsecondary Education, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services for health care services for certain indigent Kentuckians and for a prescription drug program for senior citizens, the Kentucky municipal and county public safety accounts, capital construction, sewer and water projects administered under the Kentucky Infrastructure Authority, the Kentucky veterans' trust fund, the state road fund, the budget reserve trust fund, and the equine industry program trust and revolving fund; establish the disbursement of accounts to the Kentucky municipal public safety account and the Kentucky county public safety account; establish the disbursement of funds to the Kentucky horse racing industry; …

When the lottery was Constitutionalized some 18 or so years ago there was great talk about its being the absolute answer to making Kentucky education magnificent beyond all expectations. Of course, all the proceeds went into the General Fund – totally predictable – since the lawmakers were not about to give up the spending of that windfall. If anyone thinks for a moment that the "gaming" greenbacks will be allocated specifically, he's been in a cave for a while.

The whole mess reminds one of the BopTrot and accompanying scandals of the early 90s, the result being quite a number of legislators and bureaucrats, including the House Speaker, trucked off to the Big House. If memory serves, one legislator sold a vote for only a measly $400. Recently retired Lieutenant Governor Steve Pence, a former federal prosecutor, helped that gang off to their time of rest and relaxation, and one wonders about whom or what else might have been affected, except that Bill Clinton fired all 93 federal prosecutors in one day soon after he took office in 1993. How many sighs of relief were occasioned in Frankfort then?

The most accurate description of "gaming" is that it embodies corruption – everything from "money under the table" to officials; payoffs to operators; prostitution; and, finally, the crooks who run the operations. Well…at least the Senate version would provide funds to the Kentucky Compulsive Gamblers Assistance Account, thus letting the citizens save the suckers.

I wrote a novel a while back based in large part on the casino thing. The title is Lucifer's Hope…the Guv. Check it out.

And so it goes.

Jim Clark

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