Gov. Steve Beshear unveiled a constitutional amendment yesterday that would allow voters to decide whether Kentucky should have casinos. Although support from the governor helps, the legislation authorizing the amendment is not a slam-dunk – in fact Senate President David Williams is opposed to the measure. And some House members have voiced concerns that the bill guarantees private businesses – the racetracks – the “right” to have casinos.
The measure as introduced would put casinos at five racetracks in a state which has eight tracks, so there would be some competitive bidding involved to win the five licenses. Two non-track casinos would also be authorized; these would not be allowed within 60 miles of any racetrack. That restriction doesn’t leave any well-populated markets available for a standalone casino, although a border site near Knoxville, Tenn., would qualify and would likely be an attractive location.
Not surprisingly, track operators and horsemen alike are excited about the amendment. The casinos would provide much-needed revenue for the tracks and allow racing to be more competitive with other states where gaming supports track operations and purses.
The Kentucky measure is somewhat unique – while tracks in other states offer slot machines and a full array of table games, none of them had both types of gaming from the start. Tracks in Iowa, Delaware, Pennsylvania, West Virginia (and soon, Maine) all began with just slot machines or video lottery terminals; table games were added later. South Florida’s tracks began with card rooms offering poker; slot machines were added later. So if the bill is passed, Kentucky’s tracks would be building full casinos from the beginning.