Kentucky AG Wants Gambling Expansion to Fund Pensions

  • Kentucky has traditionally been conservative when it comes to gambling expansion
  • Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear is seeking his party's gubernatorial nomination
  • He believes that legalizing casinos and sports betting will help fix the public pension shortfall
  • This move could bring in up to $500m in additional revenues each year
State flag of Kentucky
Kentucky’s attorney general, who is seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, proposes legalizing casinos and sports betting to increase revenues.

Gambling in Kentucky

Kentucky has historically taken a strict stance against gambling expansion. The only exception to this rule is the love of horse racing in the state, which is one of the few where the breeding and racing of horses is still very popular.

The state lottery has been operating since 1988. Residents are also allowed to participate in multi-state lotteries, such as the Powerball. In recent years, residents have also been able to purchase lottery tickets online. In order to raise funds, charitable organizations can offer bingo and operate raffles.

There were attempts in both 2010 and 2012 to make commercial casinos legal. However, the bills met a lot of opposition. One of the main reasons for the opposition was the fear of endangering horse racing revenue by creating casinos.

Seven racetracks operate in the state and the Kentucky Derby is a world-renowned race that takes place each year at the Churchill Downs race course.

On average, the racetracks bring in about $840m (£646.6m) a year. Approximately $310m (£238.6) of this would be taken in taxes, going towards a variety of causes.

To help these racetracks attract more people and keep up their revenues as horse racing popularity declines, they are allowed to have gaming machines on their premises.

Since the ending of the federal ban on sports betting in May 2018, there have been some calls to make sports betting legal in Kentucky.

Governor candidates pushing expansion

The state’s attorney general, Andy Beshear, is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor.

Kentucky is currently in a bit of a crisis with its public pension schemes. There will a significant shortfall in funds for these pensions in the coming years and a way is needed to increase the state’s revenue.

Four candidates are competing for the Democratic Party’s nomination. During a recent campaign event in Louisville, Beshear was asked what he would do to fix the pension crisis.

He replied that he would identify new revenue sources that would not raise taxes for anyone. He went on to say that he supports legalizing sports betting and casino gambling in the state.

Opposition to this move

Two of those also vying for the Party nomination are not in favor of this gambling expansion approach.

Rocky Adkins, the house minority floor leader, spoke after the event. He said: “To talk about an unrealistic proposal that he knows doesn’t have a chance passing, I think, is not being truthful to the people of Kentucky.”

Adam Edelen, a former state auditor of the state, believes gambling expansion is the right move but that it is not a quick fix for all the state’s revenue problems. He said: “Expanded gaming is a no-brainer, but we haven’t been able to get it done in Kentucky. And putting all our eggs in that basket seems … to be an irresponsible gamble.”

Beshear’s father was previously the state’s governor in the state and he also pushed for gambling expansion in his time.

Reporters asked Andy Beshear how he could make gambling expansion happen when so many others failed in the past. He replied: “What they’ve never done is tie 100% of the proceeds of expanded gaming to our pension system.”

Pension problems

Kentucky’s public pension system is not funded very well. According to Beshear, the state could generate as much as $500m (£385m) annually through full gambling expansion. This would go a long way toward helping ease these pension funding issues.

A lot of potential revenue is flowing into other states because Kentucky residents go elsewhere to gamble. With gambling expansion, the state could raise more funds for health care and education.

The current governor, Republican Matt Bevin, is seeking re-election. He has been against gambling expansion in the past because he believes it brings significant societal costs. His team is confident that voters in the state will not be willing to take a gamble on Beshear’s proposal.