Proposed bill would allow expanded gambling to fund Kentucky's pension crisis
Opponents call expanded gambling bad public policy.
FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- They know it's still a longshot, but a new bipartisan group of lawmakers and business leaders believe casinos can be the jackpot that helps solve the state's budget crisis.
Rep. Jerry Miller (R-Louisville) has filed House Bill 229, which would amend the Kentucky Constitution to allow expanded gambling.
The effort to allow casino gambling goes back more than a decade, but supporters said this time there is one major difference.
“Pensions,” Miller said. “We need $1.2 billion in money for the next 30 years.”
Sarah Davasher-Wisdom, CEO of Greater Louisville, Inc., said expanded gaming will create thousands of new jobs and generate between $250 million and $1 billion in the first year.
The bill requires all gaming revenue to go to the underfunded pension system for the first 20 years.
“This is a way for us to collect some of the revenue we need to fund our pensions without imposing taxes on the people of Kentucky,” said Sen. Morgan McGarvey (D-Louisville).
Rep. James Tipton (R-Taylorsville) chairs one of the subcommittees that help write the budget. He believes tax reform is the best way to generate new revenue. But Tipton said he will listen to the case for casinos.
“We're going to have to look at all options," he said. "We’re going to have to be creative, because we have serious challenges ahead."
Opponents said they have beaten expanded gambling before by pointing out the social and law enforcement cost.
“Kentucky Baptists will be completely engaged in opposition to this,” said Tom Troth, a lobbyist for the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
Unlike previous years, those fighting expanded gaming have the governor on their side. Gov. Matt Bevin has been vocal in his opposition.
“To quote the governor, ‘It’s a sucker’s bet,’” Troth said. “This is a terrible way to implement public policy.”
Miller dismissed the moral argument, pointing to the success of the lottery and instant racing, as well as the serious nature of the budget crisis.
“What's the morality of that as opposed to raising taxes?" he said. "What’s the morality of that as opposed to further budget cuts?"
Amending the Constitution requires approval by two-thirds of the House and Senate. It if passes, the question would be placed on the ballot this fall.
As for the bill’s chances of passage, Miller is realistic.
“It's possible, but not probable," he said. "But that doesn’t mean we shouldn't try.”
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