In Kentucky, Major Progress Despite Defeat

“We’re running the continued risk of our relevancy to the citizens of this Commonwealth.”

That comment was made by Democratic Sen. Tim Shaughnessy Feb. 23 during the lead-up to a vote on a constitutional amendment on expanded gambling in Kentucky. The “let the people decide” measure failed on a 21-16 vote with one senator absent.

Though the Kentucky horse industry was dealt another setback—assuming the enabling legislation would have been sufficiently beneficial—there was progress. The Senate has been a lockdown chamber for years, controlled by the Republican majority and perhaps even one man, but five Republicans voted in favor of putting the casino question on the statewide ballot.

This represents a major change, one that bodes well for the future on any number of issues facing Kentucky.

It was interesting to hear Democratic senators commending Republican Sen. Damon Thayer, a known conservative who went up against party leadership to support the proposal by Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear. Thayer publicly stated he was taking a risk by doing so but felt an obligation to stand up for his belief that the only way to address expanded gambling is through a constitutional amendment. He has never varied on that stance.

Damaging? In the darkness of the state Senate, perhaps. But if anything, Thayer should gain more clout and respect for reaching out across party lines, something Shaughnessy said demonstrated a bipartisan perspective “not only rare in this chamber, but non-existent.” If other legislators don’t believe the public realizes this, they’re out of touch with reality.

Anyone who knows Thayer knows he’s a constitutional animal. He loves the constitution. Yet he sponsored the bill. Opponents, however, used the constitution to muddy the argument with success.

Not surprisingly much of the comments made on the Senate floor and during a Feb. 22 Senate committee meeting centered on morality and protection of the public from insidious gambling forces. Such positions should be respected—when they aren’t colored with hypocrisy.

During the committee hearing Republican Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr mentioned the “Good Lord” in her statement of opposition to expanded gambling. On the Senate floor, she likened herself and other legislators to being the front-line defense for the public.

Excuse me for bringing faith into this commentary, but as a Republican, conservative, and Christian, I believe the Good Lord is the front-line defender, not a politician, and would guess other Christians agree.

The anti-gambling argument is disingenuous for other reasons, such as the fact Kentuckians can purchase lottery tickets at any corner store or gas station. But they would have to make an effort to visit casinos located around the state. What’s more insidious?

And let’s not forget no one drags people into casinos or racetracks. And no one forces them to drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes, things one could argue are ultimately more damaging to the public than regulated casino gambling.

So why no push to repeal lottery and pari-mutuel wagering laws or ban alcohol and tobacco? Are you anti-gambling and concerned about the public’s welfare, or are there other reasons behind your opposition? Casino companies aren’t the only ones that throw money at legislators.

The Kentucky Equine Education Project noted after the Senate vote that even those who killed the measure acknowledged the need to protect the horse industry and its economic impact. KEEP asked the question of legislators: Now what are you going to do to back up your claim?

This issue is not dead. The horse industry is not dead. And in light of the recent developments in the state Senate, bipartisan cooperation that can move Kentucky forward is not dead.

Hypocrisy isn’t dead, either. But legislators in Kentucky should take note of Shaughnessy’s comment about relevancy. It’s clearly slipping away.


Leave a Comment:

Jason Shandler

Buffoonery is the best to describe these anti-gambling hypocrites. Thanks for putting your self-righteous religious beliefs before the well-being of Kentucky, once again.

24 Feb 2012 11:33 AM

Wow. One comment. Silence is indeed golden.

24 Feb 2012 8:31 PM
Bret Stossel

I guess I was sorry to read that the KY Senate had killed a chance for the people to vote on expanded gambling in the state. Mostly, though, I was sorry to read that KY, the center of the horse racing world, had failed to come up with any new or innovative means to get people to the track to bet on racing, not feed quarters into a slot machine.

25 Feb 2012 8:23 AM

Same story as with Republican Governors Bush (FL) and Schwarzenegger(CA) :"Protected" citizens' morality and sold racing/farm interests out. How did this occur? "Follow the money" in this case, to the casino companies across the river.  

25 Feb 2012 8:52 AM

Tom: I live in Ohio but travel to Kentucky on occasion to enjoy Keeneland, Churchill Downs, Turfway and the gorgeous horse country around Lexington. I've been following this latest attempt at expanded gambling and I am flabbergasted that there are still enough conservatives in the Kentucky Senate who cannot see the forest because of the trees. What Sen. Thayer and Gov. Beshear accomplished with others shows that compromise can work when you're looking out for the common good or in this case, the good of the Commonwealth.

I hope the voters are keeping an eye on the dead wood in the Senate and begin to elect some reasonable, forward-leaning individuals who actually have a broad enough vision to see the forest beyond the trees.

Does Kentucky have any mechanism whereby the citizens, with enough signatures, can bring a ballot measure to change the state constitution directly to the voters and bypass the legislature?  

25 Feb 2012 12:28 PM

Does not show much promise for a gambling site in Kentucky being the GOP is strong there. Yes silence is golden if you prefer it that way!

You have the greatest horse country there and gambling by other means just might not be the best for Kentucky. Keep your prestigeous claim to that. Love Kentucky and would love to live there!

25 Feb 2012 1:02 PM

Wondering what the economic climate is like in Kentucky. Not too well informed about that!

25 Feb 2012 1:58 PM


26 Feb 2012 1:21 AM

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