Politics

In a radio interview Wednesday morning, Gov. Matt Bevin claimed that “every night somewhere in America” someone dies by suicide in a casino.

Bevin was arguing against a proposal to legalize casino gambling in Kentucky, which is supported by his opponent in this year’s race for governor, Andy Beshear.

Bevin made the comment during an interview on WKDZ in Cadiz.

“Every night somewhere in America somebody takes their life in a casino because they’ve wasted the last semblance of dignity and hope that they had,” Bevin said. “Families are ruined, lives are ruined. There is societal cost.”

Bevin provided no evidence for the claim. A request for comment from his office was not immediately returned.

Bill Miller, president of the American Gaming Association, said that Bevin’s comments were “patently false and irresponsible.“

“Our industry commits hundreds of millions of dollars a year to address the very serious issue of problem gambling, ensuring that patrons have the tools they need to engage in our offerings in a responsible manner,” he said. “From extensive responsible gaming training programs for our employees and proactive education for our consumers, to financial support for programs that ensure people who need help get it, our industry’s commitment is very clear.”

Bevin has long opposed expanding gambling in Kentucky, calling it a “suckers bet” and dismissing arguments that it could raise revenue for the state’s cash-strapped pension system.

For years, casino gambling has been proposed as a solution to Kentucky’s budget woes. Former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear made it a major part of his platforms during both of his gubernatorial races, though the proposal has never made it out of the legislature.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers proposed a casino gambling bill in the Kentucky legislature last year, estimating that it would raise between $250 million and $1 billion in its first year.

During the WKDZ interview, Bevin dismissed predictions of how much money gambling would raise for the state.

“The only way that we can solve this problem that we have is to have more people living in Kentucky paying taxes, that’s it,” Bevin said.

The Courier Journal revealed in 2015 that despite Bevin’s opposition to gambling, the investment firm he used to work for heavily invested in gambling companies.

Beshear, Kentucky’s attorney general and Democratic opponent in this year’s race for governor, has said he supports allowing casino gambling and sports betting. On his website he says that he would use the revenue from taxing the activities as a dedicated funding stream for the pension system.

Beshear’s campaign spokesperson Sam Newton addressed Bevin’s comment in a statement.

“For Matt Bevin to lash out and use the serious issue of mental health and suicide as a defense for his failed leadership is wrong and callous,” Newton said. “This governor supports policies that cut vital access to mental health care and make it more difficult for Kentuckians to get the care they need. Matt Bevin’s erratic claims today do nothing to solve any problems and are further proof he’s unfit to lead.”

Kentucky already permits some forms of gambling like betting on horse races. In 2019, the state collected $14,578,083 from taxes on race betting.

According to a 2015 Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting story, Kentucky’s neighboring states of Ohio, Illinois and Indiana collectively brought in $3.9 billion in taxes from casinos on the Ohio River over 10 years.

This story has been updated with a statement from the Beshear campaign and the American Gaming Association.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available here or by calling 1-800-273-8255.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.