Wednesday, April 28, 1999

Patton uncertain on casino gambling

Ky. governor links preservation, racing

The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT, Ky. — While insisting he is neutral on the idea of casino gambling, Gov. Paul Patton said Tuesday that money from expanded gambling in Kentucky could finance a huge preservation program and provide help for the horse industry.

        Adding the preservation of cities, natural areas and “ecological treasures” to the debate could fuel even more discussion of casino gambling, a topic that has been raised periodically in recent years.

        Mr. Patton said it is crucial to help the racing industry because of the losses it has suffered from competition from gambling in surrounding states. And, “If we're going to preserve the Kentucky we know and love, we need to start now,” Mr. Patton said.

        He said Tuesday that casino gambling might raise $100 million to $150 million, which would be the amount needed to finance the proposals he supports.

        “I see absolutely no other source of revenue” other than casino gambling, Mr. Patton said during an impromptu news conference outside the Capitol.

        But he said his support for racing and preservation does not translate into support for casinos.

        There is now a small fleet

        of gambling boats that cruise the Ohio River along Kentucky's northern shore. Mr. Patton said Kentucky should look into “capturing the money that is going to other states.”

        The Rev. Nancy Jo Kemper, executive director of the Kentucky Council of Churches, said raising the topics of preservation and help for the horse industry are just ways to overshadow a serious debate about the spread of gambling.

        If preservation is worthwhile, it should be financed with legitimate sources of public funds, “rather than have state government participate in fleecing its citizens,” the Rev. Ms. Kemper said. And the horse industry is doing well, she said.

        It is gambling, and the state's role in conducting or promoting it, that should be the issue, she said.

        “I think he's looking for something palatable to sell it to the people,” the Rev. Ms. Kemper said.

        Mr. Patton declined to say what would make up his mind for or against casino gambling, but he said a constitutional amendment should be considered. “I think this is something that should be debated,” he said.

        But there is debate even within the racing community about whether casino gambling, either based at existing racetracks or at freestanding facilities, would hurt the horse industry or help it.

        Proponents of gambling have tak en the position that the involvement of the Kentucky Lottery Corp. would get around possible constitutional prohibitions on casinos. Others have insisted it would take a separate amendment, which would require the approval of the General Assembly and the voters.

        “In my opinion, that is the preferable way to do it,” Mr. Patton said. “Politically speaking, the constitutional amendment is the correct way to go.”

        The Rev. Ms. Kemper said she is opposed to a referendum because millions of dollars would pour in from gambling companies to promote its passage.


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