FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - Solving the unfunded liability of Kentucky’s public pension systems can only happen with new revenue sources, according to two lawmakers who are leading a bipartisan effort to legalize expanded gaming in Kentucky.
Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, sponsored legislation (House Bill 175) during the 2019 General Assembly that would allow sports wagering, online poker and fantasy sports. The measure passed the House Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee, but never came up for a vote in the full House.
Still, Koenig says while acknowledging it’s a controversial issue, he is undeterred for 2020. “I will absolutely try again. We will have an interim hearing in committee on it sometime this year.”
Since it is a revenue measure, Koenig says it might have a better chance of passing in a budget year.
“It needs 60 votes in the House and 23 in the Senate during the short session. In 2020 we will only need half the legislature plus one. I think it will be a lot easier next year, especially when we have budget holes to fill.”
Rep. Al Gentry, D-Louisville, was a primary co-sponsor of HB 175, and also sponsored legislation that would allow casinos in the state, which didn’t even receive a committee hearing. He says new revenue sources are a must. “One is expanded gaming. I think it’s obvious. It’s been out there for decades and for some reason we can’t move, while all of our neighbors continue to move in that direction.”
Gentry says he might consider introducing a revenue producing bill during a special session Gov. Matt Bevin wants to call before July 1 on the pension issue.
“Only if we can talk about new industries that bring in new money, and not necessarily reaching into the pockets of our citizens.”
His perspective on gaming is that it already exists. “I’m from Louisville and the people that like to gamble in Louisville already do it. Everybody knows that. The small percentage of people that do have problems managing what the gamble with, we already have that problem too, but we don’t have any extra tax funding to help deal with that issue because it’s all going across the river.”
Gentry says Indiana is reaping the benefits of Kentucky’s refusal to legalize expanded gaming.
“They are full-blown into casinos, they’re adding land-based casinos, they’re pulling in over $600 million a year in tax revenue. Think about that. We could do a lot with out pension program. It’s about time we keep some of our discretionary spending in our state. That’s what I think.”
However, opponents like Family Foundation say the cost on the lives of Kentucky families, which is the main target in expanded gambling, is steep and could lead to a corrupting influence on government. Gambling addiction leads to broken families, alcoholism, drug use and more, the organization said.
Curtis Woods, the co-interim executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, said earlier this spring that “we will encourage our representatives to fight this cancerous proposal until the end. Kentucky Baptists have fought to protect families from expanded gambling ploys for years.”
Several other gambling-related bills that were introduced during the 2019 regular session, but never came up to a vote.
Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, introduced a proposed constitutional amendment to allow all forms of gambling, with proceeds after administrative costs going to the public pension system.
Sen. Julian Carroll, D-Frankfort, had a bill allowing sports gambling and setting up a Kentucky Gaming Commission to oversee it.
Rep. Dennis Keene, D-Wilder, proposed legislation to allow casinos in Kentucky, as well as a separate sports gambling bill.
Rep. Sal Santoro, R-Florence, introduced a measure for the Kentucky Lottery Corporation to oversee sports wagering in the state.