Thursday, February 14, 2008

Ky. governor proposes 12 casinos, some rural

Kentucky would have up to 12 casinos, some in rural areas, under legislation proposed today by Gov. Steve Beshear. The plan is being pushed by the state's influential horse interests, mainly racetracks being hurt by competition from casinos in adjoining states, most recently West Virginia.

Fleshing out his major platform plank of last year's campaign, Beshear proposed a constitutional amendment to allow seven track-operated casinos in counties with tracks and five elsewhere, and enabling legislation specifying the eligible counties.

Two tracks are, by definition, in rural areas -- Franklin and Prestonsburg. Another, at Paducah, population 30,000, is also outside a metropolitan area. Tracks "could build off-site in their county ... subject to the approval of a local legislative body," writes Greg Hall of The Courier-Journal (which produced the map). One non-track casino would be allowed in either Laurel or Whitley counties, on Interstate 75 in southeastern Kentucky, a rural area. All other sites would be in metropolitan areas, though in some cases they might involve counties with many rural residents -- such as Christian in southwestern Kentucky and Greenup at the state's northeast corner. The reaction from rural areas was not favorable, reports The C-J's Joseph Gerth.

A countywide referendum would be needed to approve a non-racetrack casino, which could prevent approval of one in socially conservative southeastern Kentucky. Passage of constitutional amendments in Kentucky requires a three-fifths vote of both the House and Senate, and majority approval of voters in a statewide referendum. Prospects for the Democratic governor's proposal are dicey, to say the least (pun intended). Leaders of the Republican-controlled Senate oppose it, despite a state budget crisis that has left the state with less money to spend in each of the next two fiscal years than the legislature appropriated for the current year. Whitley is the largest and easternmost county in the district of Senate President David Williams of Burkesville, who predicted that the plan would not even pass the Democratic-controlled House.

Hall writes, "Tax proceeds from the new gambling would be divided with 50 percent for education; 20 percent to health care; up to $2 million for treatment of compulsive gambling; 3 percent to host jurisdictions and 5 percent each to support city and county programs, with 17 percent divided among other programs ranging from substance abuse to wildlife."(Read more)

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