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Op-Ed: Time to Reconsider Gaming

Last week the NKY Chamber of Commerce joined with Greater Louisville Inc. (GLI), Louisville’s metro chamber of commerce, in support of allowing a gaming amendment to the state constitution to be placed on the ballot in November. 

While we’ve had this position for years, you might ask, “Why are you bringing up this issue again?”

Because it is time to reconsider.

Because in light of Kentucky’s pension situation, and proposed significant budget cuts to services and our educational systems, we need to explore all reasonable options for additional revenue.

Because Indiana and Ohio legalized gaming years ago, and as a result, Louisville and Northern Kentucky citizens already have gaming. For 1.2 million Kentuckians in our two metro areas, there is a casino less than 20 minutes from our homes, and we make up 25% of the state’s population. 

Because when you begin to add in folks in Ashland, which has a casino (West Virginia) less than an hour away, or folks in Paducah that have a casino (Illinois) less than 25 minutes away, or folks in southern Kentucky that are close to casinos in Tennessee, you start to realize that the majority of Kentuckians (over 50%) are within an hour of a major casino.  85% are within 2 hours of a casino! 

Because the states that surround us are benefiting from our stance on gaming, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

If you want proof, visit the parking lots of casinos in Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, West Virginia and Tennessee, and count the number of Kentucky license plates. 

Not only are we missing out on much needed revenue, there are significant economic development opportunities that come from gaming that we continue to overlook. 

Here in Northern Kentucky, we represent 10% of Kentucky’s population (we’re 400,000 citizens in our three northernmost counties), but we represent 20% of the state’s tourism.   We could do more without people leaving our region for casinos in Indiana and Cincinnati. 

If you are someone that believes casino gaming brings too many downsides with it, I understand that perspective.  From my point of view, even if that’s true, we already have the downsides, without any of the revenue. 

I realize there are communities around the Commonwealth that don’t want casinos near their communities.  I understand that perspective.  But for those of us that already have a casino, let us decide for ourselves.   

Finally, there are some that doubt the Commonwealth could gain much from having casino gaming. 

Their argument is, “Why pass it now?  We’ve already lost out on the billions we could have received had we passed this years ago.”  That may be true, but there is no doubt that this would still bring hundreds of millions into our economy. 

And in certain areas of the state, that have expanded tourism potential, this could be a big opportunity. 

Look at it this way, if gaming only brought in $250 million dollars to the state, that could be over $1 million dollars for every school district and public university toward their pension obligation.

I hope you will contact your legislators in support of putting gaming on the ballot.  Let the Kentucky voters decide and end this debate.       

I realize it doesn’t solve all our problems. We still need pension reform and tax reform.  But it would help.

These days, we can use all the help we can get. 

Brent Cooper is the president of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce