Greater Louisville Inc. joined with the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and state legislators of both parties at a rally in Frankfort on Thursday, supporting an amendment to Kentucky’s constitution allowing expanded gaming and devoting the funds generated toward the state’s troubled public pension system.

Louisville’s chamber of commerce supports the passage of House Bill 229, which would create a statewide voter referendum to permit casino gaming in Kentucky and create an administrative body to provide oversight that would be funded by license fees and taxes on such gambling.

The amendment would also require 100 percent of these casino gaming proceeds, in excess of the amount used to pay for administering its oversight, to go toward funding the state’s woefully underfunded pension plans for government workers.

In a news release in support of the legislation, GLI stated that the business communities of Louisville and northern Kentucky “continue to recognize that expanded gaming is a catalyst for economic growth and HB 229 is the first step in generating much needed revenue for the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”

“The numbers are on the side of expanded gaming with the creation of thousands of new jobs and anywhere from $250 million to $1 billion in the first year of gross gaming revenue alone,” stated Sarah Davasher-Wisdom, chief operating officer of Greater Louisville Inc. “The question is no longer why should we do this, but why aren’t we already doing it? It’s time for Kentucky to move forward.”

State Rep. Jerry Miller, R-Louisville, is the lead sponsor of the bill, stating in the release that with the pension system’s unfunded liabilities exceeding $44 billion, “we must find new sources of revenue. Because almost 50 percent of Kentuckians live in a county bordering a state that allows casino gaming, expanded gaming in Kentucky could generate $250 million annually.”

State Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, is in the process of building a coalition of support for the ballot initiative in that chamber, stating that “it’s time we let Kentuckians decide whether they want to recapture the carloads of cash leaving Kentucky every day to pay for roads, bridges, and schools in other states.”

This is one of several bills that have been filed in the Kentucky General Assembly this session that seek new strategies for raising new revenues to devote to the pension system. State Sen. Dan Seum, R-Louisville, recently filed Senate Bill 80 that would legalize and tax marijuana, estimating that it would raise $100 million in new revenue.

However, proponents of raising new revenue for pensions by expanding gaming and legalizing marijuana have a powerful opponent in Gov. Matt Bevin, who has expressed vehement disagreement with both strategies.

“So, a lot of toked-up people gambling, that’s the solution for Kentucky?” said Bevin in an interview last fall. “I would say no and no. Not while I’m governor. Those are sucker’s bets. We’re not going to legalize marijuana in this state.”

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Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]