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State Lawmakers Propose Casino Gambling To Aid Ailing Pension Systems

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A bipartisan group of lawmakers has proposed allowing casinos to open in Kentucky so the state can glean gambling tax revenue for its ailing pension systems.

Similar pieces of legislation have failed in recent years, but supporters think that the pension crisis and lackluster revenue from taxes might make lawmakers more willing to roll the dice.

Rep. Jerry Miller, a Republican from Louisville and one of the bill’s sponsors, said the proposal is more palatable than a tax increase.

“It gives us new revenue we do not have now,” Miller said. “Frankly, I do not gamble, but I’m very aware of the pension issue.”

In past legislative sessions, expanded gambling has mostly been carried by Democrats.

Former Gov. Steve Beshear made it a major part of his platforms during both of his gubernatorial races, though the proposal has never been considered in the Republican-led Senate.

This year’s House Bill 229 is sponsored by seven Republicans and one Democrat.

Supporters estimate the proposal would yield between $250 million and $1 billion in the first year of expanded gambling.

Sen. Morgan McGarvey, a Democrat from Louisville, said the bill will help avoid “bleak” budgets like the one currently being pieced together by lawmakers.

“This gives the people of Kentucky the choice whether they want to collect the car loads of cash that are going across our bridges on a daily basis and paying for roads, bridges and schools in Indiana and Ohio,” McGarvey said.

Because the bill would amend the state’s constitution, it would require three-fifths of each legislative chamber to vote in favor of it — Gov. Bevin would not be able to veto it. If passed, a majority of Kentuckians would have to vote in favor of it during a referendum on Election Day.

If the measure passes all of those hurdles, the legislature would then have to pass “enabling legislation” that would set specific details like how many and where casinos could open.

This is one of a handful of bills that would seek new revenue for the state’s pension systems, including one that would get tax revenue from legalizedmarijuanasales.

According to a 2015 Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting story, Ohio, Illinois and Indiana all expanded gambling and collectively brought in $3.9 billion in taxes from casinos on the Ohio River over 10 years.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives for Kentucky Public Radio, a group of public radio stations including WKMS, WFPL in Louisville, WEKU in Richmond and WKYU in Bowling Green. A native of Lexington, Ryland most recently served as the Capitol Reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.
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