Casinos are here but no one knows how or why

November/December 2018

Opinion: In 2010 Gov. Beshear and the gambling industry set a course to manipulate the judicial system and bypass the legislature.

By Martin Cothran, Senior Policy Analyst for The Family Foundation

For twenty-five years, Kentucky has been debating the issue of expanded gambling. Many Kentuckians will remember the television commercials and news stories, and the articles that would run in the state’s newspapers covering the fight in Frankfort over changing the Constitution or passing a piece of legislation to let the casino companies in.

As The Family Foundation’s lead lobbyist at the time, I was there for most of it. And I can think of a few of those times when it started to look like we were going to lose. They had the best lobbyists, they had influence in high places, they had money to run commercials. We didn’t have any of that. Still, for twenty-five years, we won.

Or did we?

Has anyone noticed how quiet Frankfort has been on this issue in recent years? What happened? Did casino interests finally decide to throw in the towel?

No, not really. They haven’t been quiet because they gave up; they’ve been quiet because they found another way to win.

The battle was always over whether this state was going to allow casino gambling. Everyone agreed that you had to at least change state law to do it, and most people agreed that you also had to amend the state constitution. This is a process that involves public hearings, committee votes and public votes on the House and Senate Floors by elected lawmakers – as well as allowing every citizen a vote to approve the change in the Constitution.

What happened, instead, was that the casino interests snuck in casino gambling in the form of “historical racing” machines. These are nothing but slot machines. Right now, there are 2700+ such machines operating, picking the pockets of Kentuckians, housed in five casinos with two more coming.

That’s right. Casinos are already here. And, as they say in my county, gambling has “done been” expanded. The issue on which we all thought we had a voice has been taken out of our hands, thanks to big money and big lies.

How did this happen? And why has nothing been done about it?

When the lawyers in the high-priced suits told a Frankfort sympathetic judge that betting on machines with videos of old horse races – and, later, cartoons of horse races – qualified under the law that said you could only bet on live horse races, the sympathetic judge bought it. But The Family Foundation is appealing the case, so it’s still in the courts, and they still lack final approval of the machines.

And yet, there they are, 2700+ of them, operating with the explicit permission of unelected bureaucrats who run the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, an executive branch body that answers to the Governor.

The issue of expanded gambling has essentially been taken out of the hands of average Kentuckians in decided unilaterally by bureaucrats and casino barkers, in defiance of the state constitution.

Where are our elected lawmakers? Where is the Governor? Why has there not been a single vote by a single elected lawmaker – or by a single voter? Why has there not been a single hearing on this issue?

The only measure taken against these new, illegal casinos was a fine Derby City Gaming had to pay when it was found out that they were operating 900 machines that even they had to admit were illegal. They were fined $91,000.

$91,000!!!??? They pay more than that on their monthly light bill. This is a company that, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal, “grossed nearly $50 million in November alone.”

What happened to the conservatives in the General Assembly who fought for the law and the Constitution for so many years? Those who were against the big money forces of casino gambling that were peddling their influence in Frankfort and trying to short-circuit our government?

Historical racing machines are not horse races, and the casinos that are now operating them are not horse racing tracks. No one seriously thinks they are.

Call your state lawmaker and ask him or her why nothing is being done about illegal gambling in Kentucky. Tell them they didn’t vote for casinos – and neither have you.

Call the toll-free Legislative Message Line, at 1-800-372-7181, and leave this two-part message for “all the legislators from my county.” (State Senators and Representatives): “Please vote against any gambling bill! And, Hold a hearing on ‘Instant Racing’ and the new casinos.”

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