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June 2012
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LEFT AT GATE Numbers suggest gambling won't deliver for Kentucky

It will be interesting to see, now that the filing deadline for legislative races has passed, what progress is made on the perennial effort to legalize casino gambling in Kentucky.

A hallmark of election-year legislative sessions has been that lawmakers spend most of January keeping their heads down, waiting until they find out if they'll face a serious re-election challenge before wading into anything that could prove a hot issue.

To that end, two gambling bills have been parked in a friendly committee in the Kentucky House awaiting action, which may now be forthcoming. One bill would place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot to allow casino gambling in the commonwealth. A companion bill would lay the groundwork for licensing eight casinos in Kentucky should the amendment pass.

The measures could make it out of the Democratic House, although supporting them would be a dangerous vote back home for some in the Democratic majority. Prospects in the Senate are more uncertain, although some pundits contend opposition there has softened somewhat.

We would be perfectly happy to see the proposal suffer the same fate as in years past, dying a quiet death in some arcane committee.

We have consistently opposed introduction of casino gambling in Kentucky on philosophical grounds. We just don't think it's an appropriate way for government to raise money. Taxation may be unpopular, but generally it is fair. It doesn't as a rule ruin desperate people by taking money they can't afford to part with.

We believe if the state truly needs new revenue, it is the job of legislators to persuade taxpayers it is necessary and raise taxes accordingly. It is not responsible to instead raise money by indifferently luring sometimes-desperate people into a something-for-nothing dream they have little chance of realizing.

But we have also of late opposed introducing gambling in Kentucky for economic reasons. Even if we did not have other objections, there's a case to be made that the gambling market is now so saturated that new casinos in Kentucky would have a difficult time delivering the sort of income for the state being touted by casino proponents. Kentucky is simply too late to that table.

A story in the January 27 Paducah Sun we think illustrates the point. It details a 25 percent decline in revenue since 2010 at the Harrah's casino just across the river in Metropolis. The casino saw a 20 percent decline in admissions last month and a 16 percent revenue decline compared to December 2012.

The newer Isle of Capri casino in Cape Girardeau, which got off to a hot start when it opened in October of 2012, reported similarly bad numbers in December. Admissions there were off 27 percent and adjusted gross revenue was down 9 percent.

Granted, bad weather could explain some of that, but given the longer-term trend reflected at Metropolis, what it says to us is casino gambling has become an awfully crowded space - too many casinos chasing a limited and possibly shrinking pool of gambling dollars.

We don't think adding casinos at this late date in Kentucky will ever be the golden goose some lawmakers seem to think it is. If Kentucky truly needs more money, it should look elsewhere.

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