Local News Noise & Notes Politics

Beshear Promotes Gaming Bill in Weekly Address

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear used his weekly YouTube address to promote the constitutional amendment to legalize expanded gaming in the state.

Earlier this week, the governor and state Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, unveiled the legislation to allow gaming in up to seven locations across the commonwealth. The legislation would permit five casino’s at horse racetracks and two at stand-alone locations that must be at least 60 miles from the nearest racetrack.

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Political observers have noted that Beshear usually avoids controversial topics in his weekly address. The bill is expected to be voted on in Senate committee next Wednesday.

Local News Noise & Notes Politics

New Poll Shows 87 Percent Want Vote on Expanded Gaming

A new poll shows an overwhelming number of Kentuckians want a constitutional amendment on expanded gaming to be on the November 2012 ballot and that the measure would likely pass.

The poll was conducted by Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group in Washington, D.C. for racetrack and horse racing interests. It shows 87 percent of respondents want to vote on the measure during next year’s general election and 64 percent would favor such a change to the state constitution.

Governor Steve Beshear put casino gambling at the center of his 2007 gubernatorial campaign, but the initiative has been successfully blocked in the Republican-controlled state Senate.

However, political winds changed for the upcoming legislative session given his thumping of state Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, in November. The governor has since promised to put gaming on the agenda for the 2012 General Assembly.

From the governor’s office:

“Once again, a new poll shows Kentuckians demand an opportunity to vote on expanded gaming. The call for a direct vote by the people of this state has only gotten stronger over the last few years, and we should not make our citizens wait a moment longer to have their voices heard.

For far too long, millions of hard-earned Kentucky dollars have flowed across our rivers to surrounding states—helping to build schools and roads, and hire teachers and police officers in Indiana, Illinois, and West Virginia. That’s Kentucky money, and it belongs here where it can directly help our people.

We’re working very hard to prepare for the upcoming legislative session, and one of my top priorities will be a constitutional amendment to take the gaming question directly to our people. It’s time for Kentuckians to decide the state’s future on expanded gaming.”

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Indiana Gubernatorial Candidate Unveils Economic Plan

From the Associated Press

Republican candidate for Indiana governor Jim Wallace says the state can boost its economy by spending $500 million on infrastructure and new tax credits for business.

Wallace, an Indianapolis businessman, outlined a broad plan Thursday that he’s asking lawmakers to support during the next legislative session. He says the state should spend from its cash surplus to pay for the plan.

He’s also seeking to expand land-based casino gambling. He says it’s a natural step for Indiana which has the third-largest gambling industry behind Nevada and New Jersey.

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AG Asked To Halt Instant Racing Games

By Stu Johnson, Kentucky Public Radio

The Family Foundation of Kentucky says the state attorney general should move to shut down Instant Racing machines at a southern Kentucky track.

Kentucky Downs began offering the gambling devices several weeks ago. Instant Racing allows participants to bet on previously run, anonymous horse races. The Family Foundation’s Kent Ostrander delivered a letter to Attorney General Jack Conway today, asking him to shut the machines down.

“They’re not pari-mutuel. It’s not horse racing. But the fact that, in statute, the reel machines are strictly prohibited, that alone would be enough to scuttle this until the court has time to fully decide at the appellate level…sometime in January or February or March,” he said.

Next month, an appeals court is expected to consider an injunction aimed at shutting down the slot machines until it can make a formal ruling on their legality. A spokeswoman for the state attorney general says the office doesn’t intervene in matters that are pending before the courts.

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Louisville Lawmaker Prefiles Gambling Measures

A Republican state lawmaker from Louisville says he believes expanded gambling legislation he’s pre-filed for the 2012 General Assembly will get a fair hearing.

Representative Mike Nemes wants legislators to consider two bills. The first would put a constitutional amendment question on the ballot in 2012.

“Overwhelmingly, my district wants this. Out in the state, many do, many don’t but even the ones that don’t, they want to be able to vote on it and not have the legislature decide whether they’re going to have gaming or gambling. They want a vote,” he said.

The second bill would call for county-level elections to determine whether casinos should be permitted.

Nemes represents the 38th House District in south Louisville.

Gambling legislation has been introduced in recent years in the General Assembly but has died in the Republican-led Senate.

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In Depth: Lawmaker Pushing For Native American Recognition

Should Kentucky officially recognize Native American tribes living within its borders? A Louisville lawmaker believes it should, to help improve their lives.

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The history of Native Americans in Kentucky is deep and rich. Archaeological research in all 120 counties of the Commonwealth proves Native Americans arrived here thousands of years ago. But a common myth about Native Americans in Kentucky is that they hunted here, but didn’t live here. Not true, says Tressa Brown of the Kentucky Native American Heritage Commission.

“There were native people in Kentucky 10,000 years ago,” said Brown. “They lived here permanently and there are still native people living permanently in Kentucky.”

And they’re proud of their Native American heritage and want others to acknowledge it, says Mike Presnell, the commission’s vice chair.

“Anybody that has ancestry in the land they live in surely would want to be recognized for what they are, and not feel like an outsider,” said Presnell. “They’ve had to hide for hundreds of years now, and it’s time that they should be proud of who they are.”

Embracing their cause is Rep. Reginald Meeks, D-Louisville, who’s part Cherokee. Bills sponsored by Meeks define the term “Native American,” and outline strict criteria groups must meet before Kentucky will recognize them as an American Indian tribe. Meeks says his goal is simply to help improve the lives of Native Americans living in Kentucky.

“There are resources that are targeted for Native American people – to make their lives better in terms of housing, in terms of education, in terms of job creation,” said Meeks. “And those funds need to be targeted and focused to the native community.”

But one of the legislation’s most outspoken opponents is Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown. Thayer, who chairs the Senate State Government Committee, fears official state recognition of Native American tribes will ultimately lead to one thing – casino gambling.

“I don’t know that there is any way that you can guarantee me or anyone else who shares this concern that it won’t lead to widespread Indian casinos like have proliferated in other state’s in this country,” said Thayer.

Rep. Meeks says the fears are unfounded, because under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, only federally-recognized tribes can operate casinos – and only in states that permit gaming.

“A group of people would have to go through the BIA’s recognition process and have the federal government recognize them,” said Meeks. “And, Mr. Chairman, this body would have to authorize gaming in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”

Intently listening to the exchange between Thayer and Meeks at a hearing in Frankfort were several Native Americans, including Justus Dominguez and his daughter Joyce of Lexington (pictured). They later told Kentucky Public Radio, this has nothing to do with casino gambling.

“That’s not what we’re concerned about,” said Justus Dominguez. “We’re concerned about identifying Native Americans and looking for those opportunities where they could take advantage of their heritage – you know, getting help and resources.”

“It’s mostly about the recognition of Native Americans in Kentucky,” added Joyce Dominguez.

Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, agrees, and says the casino proliferation argument is nothing but “a red herring.”

“I mean, this can enable and open doors for individuals,” said Webb. “It can enable pools of money, access for grants and aid.”

Rep. Meeks has twice gotten House approval for his bills, only to watch them die in the Senate. He hopes next year will be different.

In-Depth News Next Louisville Politics

Instant Racing Debate Moves To Lexington

The Red Mile, a standardbred horse track in Lexington, was the site of Kentucky’s second public hearing on Instant Racing.

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In July, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission unanimously approved regulations allowing Instant Racing at the state’s eight horse tracks. Instant Racing allows bettors to place electronic wagers on previously run horse races. Before the regulations go into effect, the public gets to weigh-in on them.

Last week, the Revenue Cabinet held a sparsely attended hearing in Frankfort on taxation of Instant Racing. Only two people spoke and both were Instant Racing opponents. But the hearing at The Red Mile drew more than 100 people, most with ties to the horse industry.

The first to speak was Lexington veterinarian Andy Roberts, an east coast native who says he moved to Kentucky for the horses. But Roberts says Kentucky is losing its signature industry to states like Indiana, where casino revenues help pump up race purses.

“If it gets to the point where there’s nothing left here in the horse business, I can tell you what will happen to me,” said Roberts. “The farm will go up for sale, and the last hundred bucks I’ve got in my pocket will fuel my truck to drive me to Indiana, where I don’t want to live!”

Attorney Stan Cave, who represents the Family Foundation of Kentucky, spoke next. He says the pari-mutuel laws in Kentucky allow betting only on live races.

“Gambling on videos of previously run horse races is nothing more than gambling through the use of video slot machines,” said Cave.

And that, says Cave, does not meet Kentucky’s legal definition of pari-mutuel gambling.

“The handle and payout, associated with betting on videos of previously run horse races, is not pari-mutuel.”

But Patrick Neely of the Kentucky Equine Education Project, or KEEP, begs to differ.

“The money is collected in a pari-mutuel pool and if you are successfully able to handicap a historic horse race, you are paid out of that pool,” said Neely.

Many of the 14 people who spoke, including Carrie Brogdon of Paris, questioned why Instant Racing at horse tracks is such a hot button issue in a state that allows charitable gaming at churches.

“Who cares?” questioned Brogdon. “Why all the control? What gives anyone in this room the right to say what I can and can’t do with my money and my extra time?”

Others like Linda Boyd of Lexington say the whole issue of expanded gambling should have been put to voters years ago.

“Everything has been shut down to where the people have not been allowed to vote,” said Boyd. “And I do believe that the people have the right to vote.”

Former Gov. Brereton Jones, who was in the audience but didn’t speak during the hearing, says he worked hard for such a vote, but ran into strong opposition from the churches. Now, he believes it’s too late.

“It will take a minimum of two-and-a-half years to get it done, get it appealed and go on – if in fact the people even voted for it,” Jones told Kentucky Public Radio. “At the end of two-and-a-half years, there will be tens of thousands of families that will have left the state and our industry will not be dying, but will be dead.”

Martin Cothran of the Family Foundation says the organization certainly isn’t out to kill Kentucky’s horse industry.

“But we do not support helping the horse industry by hurting it,” said Cothran. “And that’s what we do when we try to help the horse industry by bringing in mechanized gambling.”

From here, the Instant Racing regulations move to the legislature, for review by an oversight committee. The panel’s vote is non-binding, so the regulations can move ahead with or without the committee’s blessing. However, the legality of Instant Racing is still being tested in Franklin Circuit Court.

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Indiana High Court Hears Card Counting Case

By Rick Howlett

Oral arguments were presented Wednesday before the Indiana Supreme Court in the case of an Indianapolis man who sued a casino after it banned him from the blackjack table for counting cards.

The attorney for Tom Donovan says the Grand Victoria Casino and Resort had no right to ban him from the game because there is no state or casino rule against card counting, a system some gamblers are able to use to mentally keep track of which cards have been dealt.

“I respectfully submit to the Court that just like the casino can make money and play by the rules, a casino patron should able to go to the casino and play by the rules. The only thing card counting is doing is slightly tipping the odds in his favor,” said attorney Marc Sedwick.

But casino attorney Peter Rusthoven says such establishments can choose not to do business with anyone and don’t need a rule.

“What my colleague and opponent in this case is suggesting to the Court is that we should look at gaming commission regulation on a kind of ‘anything not prohibited is allowed.’ Indeed, if we prohobit something, we are going to imply that everything else is allowed. I would submit to you on policy reasons that that has got to be the opposite of how we want to look at gaming regulation.” Rusthoven told justices.

A lower court sided with the casino in Donovan’s suit, but the decision was reversed by the state Court of Appeals.

Wednesday’s oral arguments can be seen here.

(Photo from

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Casino Gambling Issue is 'Dead'

From Kentucky Public Radio’s Tony McVeigh

The top two leaders of the Kentucky General Assembly say the concept of a state budget based on revenue from casino gambling is dead. That’s the latest response from House Speaker Greg Stumbo and Senate President David Williams, to the budget plan unveiled Tuesday by Gov. Beshear.

Stumbo’s still interested in the idea of a one-year budget.

“We’ll have a two-year budget,” saus Stumbo. “It just may be that – at least our thinking is – we might make some projections and have some safeguards in there that would allow the General Assembly to revisit the situation next year, which the General Assembly would have the inherit ability to do anyhow.”

Stumbo says the second year of the new budget is going to be the toughest anyway.

Other ideas being tossed around are tax reform, bonding and elimination of non-merit, mid-to-upper level management positions.

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In Depth: Beshear Unveils Budget Plan

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear wants to use revenue from casino-style gambling at horse tracks to balance the state’s next biennial budget. Kentucky Public Radio’s Tony McVeigh has the story.

In the days leading up to his budget address, any time Gov. Steve Beshear was asked if he would include gambling dollars in his spending proposal…

“My answer, each of those times, was the same,” says Beshear. “Everything, everything is on the table.”

But when it came time to deliver his speech, Beshear said his analysis of funding options is over and the conclusion is clear.

“Gaming revenue is the only practical option to begin funding long-term priorities with recurring revenue,” says Beshear.

The governor’s new, two-year spending plan relies on $780 million in revenue from video lottery terminals at horse tracks. And while protecting basic school funding, higher education, health care and public safety, the budget also requires 2% cuts in many state agencies to raise another $78 million. And Beshear warns against using cuts alone to balance the budget.

“The cuts to the rest of government won’t be 2% over the biennium,” says Beshear. “Instead, those cuts will be over 12% in the first year of the biennium and 34% in the second year, compared to the current year. And that’s on top of the 20%-to-25% in cuts that many of these agencies have already experienced in the last two years.”

What about a second round of federal stimulus dollars? Is that a possible solution to the state’s $1.5 billion dollar deficit?

“My budget office is monitoring that situation very closely,” says Beshear. “But the bottom line is, we cannot control what happens in Washington, and thus my budget doesn’t count on that money.”

And for those who say broad-based tax increases could be a new source of recurring revenue, Beshear says that’s a road he’s not willing to travel.

“That would accomplish the exact opposite of what we need during these difficult times,” says Beshear, “by increasing the burden on the very people and the very businesses that we’re relying on to grow us out of this recession.”

So, for Beshear, casino gambling is the state’s best source of new revenue. And he wants lawmakers to approve a bill similar to the one that passed the House last summer, but died in Senate committee.

“The only difference in the content of this year’s bill and the House bill of 2009 is where the revenue is allocated,” says Beshear. “I propose bringing the revenue into the General Fund to help balance this budget and fund our priorities.”

Sponsoring the new gaming bill is Senate Minority Leader Ed Worley. Can it pass the Senate?

“Well, you know, until something’s brought to the floor of the Senate, we really don’t know exactly what can pass there,” says Worley. “We have said for a long, long time, if you bring the statutory amendment to the floor of the Senate, we believe the votes are there to pass it. I’ve been told, on both sides of the aisle, of people who will vote for that bill who then the leadership says that they won’t. So, we’ll just have to see. If something gets to the floor of the Senate, we can count the votes.”

The governor’s budget proposal disappoints Republican Rep. Danny Ford.

“The General Assembly had not approved expanded gaming in the past and I’d thought we could move beyond that and it looks like we haven’t,” says Ford.

And Democratic Rep. Fred Nesler just wants to get down to work on the budget.

“We’ll look at it, dissect it, tear it up, put it back together, hopefully make a decent budget to send down to the Senate,” says Nesler.

Lawmakers now have 50 days to try to reach a final budget agreement.