Commonwealth Policy Center
Will Expanded Gambling Improve Well-being of the Commonwealth?
Date: February 10, 2021
Contact: Ben Taylor,
(Frankfort, KY) – Yesterday the Kentucky State Senate voted in favor of expanding the definition of “pari-mutuel” to include video slot machines. Kentucky horse track lobbyists convinced a majority of Senators that the machines, called historical horse racing (HHR), are more like betting on a previously run horse race than video slot machines.
Commonwealth Policy Center’s Executive Director, Richard Nelson questioned the premise of the bill, which he called a massive policy shift. “Legislators have been told that gambling expansion is an economic winner. But is it really?” Nelson asked. “How about the hotels, and mom-and-pop local restaurants that aren’t permitted to have slots to attract patrons? What will happen to the local economy that will see discretionary dollars siphoned off to the casinos? What about the car dealer and appliance store, the bowling alley and retail clothing outlets that cannot lure patrons in with promises of quick cash and loads of fun accompanied by flashing lights, bells, whistles, and spinning wheels that mesmerize the players.”
Nelson said that there a real people that we all know who will gamble. “For some, it will be another form of entertainment,” Nelson said. “But for others, they will learn the hard way they have a latent addiction that will hurt them. This alone should cause our legislators to ask: is it good public policy to give license to an industry that capitalizes on the losses of patrons and will clearly ruin lives?”
Sen. Whitney Westerfield (R-Crofton) spoke passionately against the bill, calling it an unconstitutional measure. He insisted the Kentucky Constitution would need to be amended to allow this new form of gambling and urged his colleagues to vote against SB 120. “Gaming in all its forms is predatory and bad public policy,” Westerfield said. “It’s an industry that’s predicated on the losses of its patrons.” The Senate voted for SB 120 by a 22-15 margin.
The bill is expected to receive its first reading in the State House on Wednesday and is fast-tracked for passage. The only thing that might delay this odds-on-favorite piece of legislation is the ice storm that might send the legislature home early. “In either case, the bill will eventually come up for a vote in the House,” Nelson said. “But before our State Representatives vote, they ought to consider the overall impact expanded gambling will have on the well being of the commonwealth and its people.”