Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo told a Louisville Courier-Journal reporter last Thursday that he won't bring a constitutional amendment to allow casino gambling up for a vote unless the Senate passes the measure first. The C-J reporter translated that to mean the latest push for casinos in Kentucky is dead for this session.
Regular readers of this page know we think that's a good outcome. We also find an interesting disconnect between the suggestion by casino proponents that Kentuckians overwhelmingly favor allowing casinos and Stumbo's concession that he doesn't want to make his party members face the consequences of voting to allow them.
Casino proponents base their claim of broad public support on a Courier-Journal poll that found 87 percent of voters favor putting the question on the ballot. But that's not really the right measure. This is America, where few people object to a straight up vote on anything. The real question is, how many among that 87 percent would vote no on casino gambling; and for that matter, vote against legislators seen as supporting the effort to bring casinos to Kentucky?
A lot of them, apparently. Enough that Speaker Stumbo has decided to wave the white flag on the issue.
As we have stated in the past, we find it untoward for the state to look to gambling as a way to finance government. While taxation may be unpopular, it is progressive and ergo generally fair. The same can't be said of casino losses, which don't discriminate between those with wealth and those who can't afford to lose.
We've also noted that gambling appears to have reached the point of oversaturation, such that Kentucky's dreams of riches from the casino business may be as misguided as gamblers' hopes of hitting the big one.
We have observed that both Harrah's Casino in Metropolis and the newer Isle of Capri casino in Cape Girardeau have seen dramatic year-over-year declines in wagers and attendance. At Harrah's, revenue is down 25 percent and attendance is down 20 percent since 2010. The casino recently announced it will close its riverboat gaming floor and move gambling to the Harrah's convention center. Casino management says the move will make the gambling floor more convenient to its hotel and restaurant facilities, which is true. But it also is effectively a downsizing of the Metropolis operation.
There also seems to be a misconception in the Paducah area that approval of casino gambling in Kentucky would translate to development of a Paducah casino at the Bluegrass Downs race track, which Harrah's also owns. We're told by people familiar with the matter that's far from certain, because there may be no significant return on investment were Harrah's to develop a casino here and either compete with or close its Metropolis facility. The most likely scenario, in our opinion, is that if Paducah gets a casino, Metropolis loses one, and we don't see any net benefit to our region in that scenario.
Fortunately the whole question at this point seems to have become academic. We're OK with that, because we don't believe casino gambling in Kentucky is the panacea its backers make it out to be.