Friday, February 01, 2002

Gambling effort enlists help

Developer Carroll hires former state senator

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Jerry Carroll, the Northern Kentucky developer who started the state's debate over casino gambling nearly a decade ago, has hired a former state senator to be his eyes and ears during debates on gambling in the current legislative session in Frankfort.

        Mr. Carroll, chairman, co-owner and developer of the Kentucky Speedway auto racetrack in Gallatin County and former owner of Turfway Park horse track in Florence, has hired Joe Meyer. Mr. Meyer, a Covington Democrat and lawyer, served 14 years in the General Assembly before losing his seat in 1996 to Erlanger Republican Sen. Jack Westwood.

        This is Mr. Meyer's first legislative session as a lobbyist. He is not advocating the passage of legislation that would legalize casino gambling, only “monitoring” the situation for Mr. Carroll, Kentucky Speedway president Mark Simendinger said Thursday.

        He said it was only “speculation” that if casinos are legalized, Mr. Carroll might try to build one.

        Mr. Carroll owns potential sites near Turfway Park; on Covington's riverfront and in a vacant hall at the Oldenberg Brewery in Fort Mitchell, which he owns with businessman Wayne Carlisle of Fort Thomas and Cintas Corp. chief executive officer Richard Farmer of Indian Hill.

        “Jerry Carroll is the guy who got everybody talking about this issue in the first place,” Mr. Simendinger said, “We just want to see what is happening on it.”

        Mr. Simendinger has also worked as an executive for Mr. Carroll at Turfway Park and in his property development and management companies.

        Kentucky's thoroughbred racing industry, including the owners of Turfway Park, are pushing for legislation allowing the installation of electronic slot machines known as Video Lottery Terminals at racetracks as a way to compete with riverboat casinos in Indiana and Illinois.

        Though no bill has been filed, one is expected within two weeks or so, proponents of VLTs have said.

        In the early 1990s Mr. Carroll, while he still owned Turfway Park, asked state lawmakers to consider allowing VLTs at racetracks. He was concerned that the racing industry would suffer when riverboat casinos opened in Indiana near Northern Kentucky and near Louisville, home of Churchill Downs.

        After the boats began opening in the mid-1990s and tracks saw attendance and wagering fall, Mr. Carroll continued his lobbying, but his efforts failed in Frankfort.

        Gov. Paul Patton, a Democrat close to Mr. Carroll, took up the call for VLTs to be considered in 1999; but he met with stiff resistance and no legislation was ever seriously considered.

        Mr. Carroll sold Turfway in 1999 for $37 million to a partnership of Keeneland racetrack in Lexington; casino-operator Harrah's; and GTECH, a maker of electronic lottery and gambling devices.

        Since 1996 Turfway's wagering has dropped by about half, track president Bob Elliston has said.

        While racing interests are pushing for VLTs at just horse tracks, others in the legislature, including House Majority Floor Leader Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, have floated the notion of allowing casinos as well.

        Mr. Carroll would likely be interested in getting in the casino business if the legislature approves a gambling bill, Mr. Simendinger said.

        “Who wouldn't?” he said. “We think we know a little bit about it ... and if this is going to become a business in the state, we would like to be represented.

        “But without knowing what is going on, it's hard to talk about what might happen,” Mr. Simendinger said. “That's why we hired Joe, to sort things out for us.”

        Mr. Meyer referred all comment to Mr. Simendinger, who said that despite the Frankfort lobbying, Mr. Carroll's emphasis is on the speedway.

        “Right now we are busy operating the speedway, selling tickets, getting roads built and doing the things we need to do and have been doing to attract a Winston Cup race,” Mr. Simendinger said.


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