Politics

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jack Conway says he would support legislation to expand casino gambling in Kentucky to bring in more money for the cash-strapped state budget.

“If we’re looking for new revenue, I think gaming is the most obvious place to look,” Conway said.

During a Kentucky Public Radio News Special on Friday, Conway said the political atmosphere might permit a gaming bill to pass the legislature.

“We may have enough pressures on the budget now that forces can come together where we can put this issue in front of the people of Kentucky and let them vote on it,” Conway said.

Allowing a limited number of casinos to open in Kentucky was a priority during both campaigns and several legislative sessions for outgoing Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear. The General Assembly would have to approve the measure as a Constitutional amendment, which requires a two-thirds majority vote of both legislative chambers. Kentucky voters would also have to approve the amendment in a referendum.

The three states on Kentucky’s northern border have made billions in tax revenues from their casinos on along the Ohio River. In the past 10 years, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio have raked in a total of $3.9 billion from a combined eight casinos, according to an analysis by Louisville Public Media’s Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

“We’ve got all of the ills of gaming but none of the revenue benefits that it could potentially provide. So for that reason, I would lobby for it,” Conway said.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, a Prestonsburg Democrat, has said he will propose legislation in the upcoming legislative session that would allow as many as seven casinos to open in Kentucky. Tax revenue from the casinos would be split among the pension system, public education, higher education and the racing industry.

During the gubernatorial debate at Centre College earlier this week, Republican candidate Matt Bevin said he would not support expanded gambling.

“I don’t think it’s the solution to what ails us financially in this state,” Bevin said.

Independent candidate Drew Curtis has said he would support the measure.

The Republican-controlled Senate didn’t take up the bill the last time it was proposed, in 2014. Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican from Manchester, has been wary of the policy, saying neighboring states that have allowed casino gambling have had mixed results.

Conway also said the state shouldn’t take out a $3.3 billion bond to help bail out the teacher pension system — something Stivers has also supported.

“The bonding issue is just problematic because if you have an economic downturn and the investments go down, all you’ve done is make the problem worse,” Conway said.

A bonding bill for the teacher pension system passed the Democratic-led House during last year’s legislative session, but it failed in the Senate.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives.