Wednesday, January 23, 2002

Tracks watch chamber's vote on track gambling

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FORT MITCHELL — River Downs management is closely watching today's Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce board vote on whether to endorse expanded legalized gambling in Kentucky.

        Support from Northern Kentucky's largest business group — with more than 2,000 members — could give a boost to Kentucky's thoroughbred industry and others pushing state lawmakers to approve casino-style gambling at Kentucky racetracks, including Turfway Park in Florence.

    Here's a look at how admissions stacked up at the five gambling boats on the Ohio River between 2001 and 2000. Note: If one person goes on two cruises in the same day, that's counted as two admissions.
2001 admissions
    Argosy: 7.4 million
    Grand Victoria: 2.7 million
    Belterra: 2.3 million
    Caesars: 5.4 million
    Aztar: 2.1 million
    2001 combined admissions: 19.9 million
2000 admissions
    Argosy: 7.5 million
    Grand Victoria: 3.1 million
    Belterra: 354,939 (opened 10/27/00)
    Caesars: 4.6 million
    Aztar: 2.1 million
    2000 combined admissions: 17.7 million
        “We decided to talk about this because the legislature is going to talk about it and we want to be prepared for that legislative discussion,” said chamber President Gary Toebben.

        Since Ohio tracks don't have the electronic slot machines known as video lottery terminals (VLTs) that some in Kentucky are pursuing, River Downs worries about increased competition if the measure is approved by the state legislature now in session in Frankfort.

        “It would have a major impact on us ... and it certainly wouldn't help us,' River Downs General Manager Jack Hanessian said Tuesday. “Competition does not hurt, but we would like to be on equal footing if Kentucky does this.”

        Ohio has considered VLTs at racetracks, but the idea died last year when Gov. Bob Taft refused to support it, said Senate President Richard Finan, R-Evendale.

        But Mr. Finan said Tuesday that competition from other neighboring states with legalized casino gambling may reopen the debate in Ohio, where the legislature must come up with millions of dollars to meet an Ohio Supreme Court order to spend more on schools.

        “There is casino gambling in Indiana and Michigan and (VLTs) at racetracks in West Virginia. Now Kentucky is looking at gambling,” Mr. Finan said. “We're kind of surrounded.”

        Several other states are considering beginning or expanding gambling, including New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Indiana, Kansas and Rhode Island.

        Kentucky lawmakers are considering gambling as a way to help racetracks compete against riverboat and racetrack casinos in other states and to generate $200 million or more in revenue for the state, in part to offset a crisis-level shortfall.

Competition, 9-11 slow casino winnings


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- Tracks watch chamber's vote on track gambling