By Taylor Forns, Friends of Limestone Chief Development Officer
The first Saturday in May. For 144 years, this has been a day of pride for Kentuckians as the entire country tunes in for the Run for the Roses. The majesty, the pageantry, the spectacle of the day is always something to behold.
As I reflect back on this year’s Kentucky Derby, I am drawn to the social and political influences of the race. Though the world’s most famous horse race takes place in Kentucky, the state government refuses to allow gambling on anything other than horse racing. With the Supreme Court’s recent decision allowing states to legalize sports gambling, I could not help but think about the current climate surrounding expanded gaming in the Commonwealth.
In 2017, people wagered $139 million on the Kentucky Derby alone, a horse race that lasts two minutes. Imagine the economic impact that would have on Kentucky if we didn’t have that cash coming into the system. Now imagine the economic impact if the Commonwealth coupled the total earnings from the horse racing industry yearly with expanded gaming in casinos and sports books. It isn’t hard to imagine that funding for many of Kentucky’s programs, including Medicaid, the failing state pension plans, and education, would receive a significant boost and ultimately lead to better outcomes for millions of Kentuckians.
The idea for expanded gaming here in Kentucky is not a novel one. Former Governor Steve Beshear was a strong advocate for it during his term as governor, and his son, Attorney General Andy Beshear, continues to push for legalization of expanded gaming to solve Kentucky’s revenue needs.
Rivals of expanded gaming do recognize its economic impact, but they believe that the “societal costs,” as Governor Matt Bevin put it in September 2017, would be too great to realize any true benefit.
Personally, I side with the idea that we live in a state where the vices of horse racing, bourbon, tobacco, and marijuana make up a large portion of the economy, so we have already paid the Pied Piper in terms of societal costs. Additionally, Kentuckians continue to leave the Commonwealth to gamble in casinos just across the Ohio River in both Indiana and Ohio. Why should we allow our dollars to continue to go to neighboring states that seem to be doing just fine with the casinos in their communities?
Not only would expanded gaming keep money within the Commonwealth, but also bringing casinos to Kentucky would create thousands of jobs, giving more citizens the chance to earn a decent wage and improve the economy. To top it all off, the sheer volume of revenue generated by expanded gaming would help to stave off tax increases to fund many of the state’s programs. To this effect, Democrats would be able to fund the myriad of state-funded programs that support Kentuckians, and Republicans would be able to make good on campaign promises to their constituents by keeping taxes low.
I don’t know about you, but I certainly did not make money on Derby day this year. My pick 6 bet lost on the first race, I didn’t hit my exacta, and I thought Mendelssohn was going to win it over Justify. Clearly, I made the wrong bets that day.
However, I have a bet that is sure to have a big payoff: legalize expanded gaming. It’s a winning bet for Kentucky.