Opinion: The gambling industry weasels it’s way into the most favorable position. It’s very good at sleight-of-hand.
By Martin Cothran, Senior Policy Analyst for The Family Foundation
The gambling industry has made regular attempts to buy its way into Kentucky. Its first attempts, in the late 1990s, were blatant about wanting to bring full-blown, mechanized casino gambling to the state. For several years, it distributed campaign cash to politicians, hired an army of influential lobbyists, and ran expensive television commercials trying to sell Kentuckians on the benefits of being financially exploited.
At first, the state’s horse industry opposed this, knowing what it could do to the state’s horse culture. But after calculating that the casino industry was too powerful to oppose, it agreed to support expanded gambling if it got a share of the take. As it turned out, thanks in large part to the efforts of The Family Foundation, which has led the opposition to expanded gambling in every General Assembly session, it turns out the horse industry was wrong. The gambling industry has lost every year. This may be why the horse industry has dropped its support of casinos in recent years.
But then the strategy changed. The gambling industry stopped advertising the fact that it wanted to bring in mechanized slot machines, craps and roulette. Instead, it attempted to sneak casino gambling in under the guise of “historic racing” machines, machines that purport to be a form of pari-mutuel betting on horse racing, but which, in fact, are really just slot machines with videos or cartoons of horse races.
The legality of these machines has been repeatedly rejected by courts in other states. Their legality in Kentucky is still being litigated in an ongoing eight-year court fight, which has pitted The Family Foundation against casino interests.
In most of these cases, pro-gambling legislators have acknowledged that Kentucky’s Constitution prohibits any kind of gambling other than pari-mutuel betting on horses, charitable gaming, or the state lottery. So, they have proposed constitutional amendments to change the Constitution, none of which has ever received support by our state’s House and Senate.
But, several months ago, the casino industry got a boost from a Supreme Court decision that ruled against a federal law that prevented states from legalizing sports gambling. The casino industry has jumped at the chance and is now engaged in a full-on campaign to legalize sports betting in Kentucky.
The first problem is with the idea itself. The legislation they are contemplating would legalize betting not only on professional sports, but college sports. Amateur sports are especially prone to corruption from sports wagering. In fact, even without the gambling aspect, money itself seems to be corrupting, as anyone familiar with the recent scandals at the University of Louisville knows.
The increased availability of gambling in general, particularly if online betting is a part of the package, which many believe it will be. Not only will it be harder for the amateur athlete to resist the temptation of affecting the outcome of a game, but it will offer new and destructive opportunities to the underclass, who studies show often wager portions of the mortgage and food budgets on other forms of gambling. And young people could be tempted to add gambling debts to their already substantial college debt.
But there is a second problem. Lawmakers in favor of allowing sports wagering are trying to pass a simple statutory bill to do it, completely ignoring constitutional restrictions. If there was ever proof of the corruptive influence of big gambling money, this is it. No one else gets to buy their way around the Constitution. Why does the casino industry get to do it?
Kentuckians should be concerned about the increased corruption sports wagering will cause through the increased incentives for people to lose their money. But they should be even more concerned about the corruptive influence it is already exercising over our very form of government.