FRANKFORT, Ky. — With only days left in the legislative session, the odds are against this year's proposal to legalize casinos in Kentucky.
Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, and Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, have gotten little support for the bill they sponsored that would have put the gambling issue on the ballot for voters to ratify or reject.
The leader of the 750,000-member Kentucky Baptist Convention said he's thankful the vast majority of lawmakers continue to oppose casinos.
"Year after year, a small group of politicians and wealthy casino owners push to expand gambling in Kentucky," said Paul Chitwood, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, the state's largest religious organization. "They promise it will be an economic boon, and it will be - for the politicians and casino operators who will be cashing in on the misery of Kentuckians."
Under their latest iteration of the perennial proposal, tax revenue from casinos would be used to shore up government pensions.
The measure would direct 90 percent of the revenue raised in the first 10 years to the pensions of teachers and government workers. The remaining 10 percent would go the help the state’s horse racing industry.
Like similar measures that have been proposed in recent years, the McGarvey-Adams proposal never got traction in the Legislature.
“We should give the people of Kentucky the choice to say whether that’s a way they want to collect addition revenue,” McGarvey said. “We recognize that we have a real financial problem with the pensions."
McGarvey said the proposal would create a dedicated stream of revenue for pensions, which, he said, could free up money elsewhere in the budget for use the state's public schools and universities.
Lawmakers have turned to the biennial budget to solve the budget crisis.
Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, who has strongly opposed gambling, has instead proposed massive cuts to some state agencies, including higher education in order to fund the ailing pension system.
The Democrat-led House and the Republican-controlled Senate have both offered budget proposals that place a priority on strengthening the financial footing of the pension system.
House and Senate lawmakers will spent the remaining days of the legislation session trying to iron out differences in their budget proposals.
Despite a long history of wagering on horses, Kentucky has never allowed casinos in the state. And many lawmakers have been reluctant to vote to change that, knowing they may face disapproving constituents in the Bible belt state.
Gambling proponents have said in the past that allowing casinos to open could generate hundreds of millions of dollars for government coffers. Estimates in the past have been that casino licensing fees alone could generate more than $250 million and that taxing gambling revenues could generate as much as $350 million a year.
McGarvey said he would continue pushing for the legislation in future sessions.