(Photo Illustration by Nico Floyd and Whitney Leggett)

By Staff

The Kentucky legislature has recently proposed a number of bills that would legalize gaming, or gambling, in the Commonwealth. The bills allow for owners of racetracks to place gambling machines on the premises and would allow developers to build casinos, as well.

Under proposed Kentucky House Bill 45, the citizens of each county in the Commonwealth would be able to vote on whether or not they wanted to allow gaming within their county, similar to the current laws in place regarding the sale of alcohol in Kentucky.

The idea has been met with both favor and concern from Kentuckians, and with good reason. Allowing gambling to occur legally would be a huge step that would forever change the face of the commonwealth’s population.

Or would it?

The truth is, gambling in Kentucky is as much a reality as coal mining in Kentucky. Some people may not want to talk about it all the time, but it definitely exists. This is true in a number of ways. First of all, while gambling may be illegal here, we do have a state lottery. For those who aren’t acquainted with how a lottery works, people pay money into a pot to get numbers. If their numbers match the numbers from the big drawing at the end of the cycle, they win the money in the pot. Guess what folks, that’s gambling, and it’s entirely legal.

Kentucky is also proudly home to the Kentucky Derby, appropriately dubbed the most important 30 seconds in sports. Why is it the most important? In the span of those 30 seconds, fortunes are won and lost. People’s lives change in the blink of an eye because of the gambling that takes place for that one race. Anybody sitting in a bar or a restaurant with TVs on the day of the derby can tell you stories of the rather dramatic reactions that happen after the race has concluded. And we’re the horseracing capital of the world; imagine all the betting that’s being done at the smaller races.

Beyond that, small-time gambling dens dot Kentucky’s landscape everywhere. Often cleverly tucked away behind an inconspicuous convenience store or gas station, these places conceal a small number of gaming machines. The owners can get away with things like this by being just out of the way enough for the authorities to pay little attention.

Those are just a few examples of gambling that already happens here, and will continue happening here, along with other sorts of gaming. This is because trying to prohibit gambling is like trying to prohibit alcohol. It’s not going to work, and it’s likely to be taken over by someone with less accountability to the people than the government.

People may fear the exposure of their families to gambling, but unless those families are kept extraordinarily sheltered, that exposure is going to happen anyway. It’s better to teach people responsible, legal gambling than to throw them to the wolves of illegal, and possibly dangerous, underground gaming.

Another point worth considering in the debate is the economic state Kentucky unfortunately is in. We are currently drowning in debt, and legalized gambling offers us a way to climb out of the hole we’ve found ourselves in. All the gambling that Kentuckians do in other states, such as Indiana, would be done here, and the taxes on gambling Kentuckians usually pay to other states would instead stay here. This is a huge economic benefit to us, because, as we’ve mentioned before, a lot of Kentuckians like to gamble.

We could put that money to good use improving the lives of Kentucky citizens. For example, the funds could be used to repair roads in desperate need of work in rural areas. Kentucky’s poverty could no longer be used as an excuse for poor environmental conditions in the towns surrounding mining areas.

Lifting the ban on gambling is not going to magically fix all of our problems. Every change comes with obstacles to overcome, and this would be no exception. One example would be by legalizing gambling, Kentucky’s tourism would increase. Thus, requiring the citizens to become more welcoming to visitors.

While a tourist economy would rely heavily on visitors, requiring a change to the “get off my lawn” attitude of many Kentuckians, there would be perks, as well. Tennessee, while not allowing gambling in any sense other than the state lottery, has been a tourist state for a long time. The built up economic system has caused a change in the sales tax policy in the state. Now, citizens of Tennessee don’t pay sales tax, only tourists do.  This would obviously take a while in Kentucky, as more businesses would need to come to attract people, but in the long-term sales tax breaks could become a reality for Kentuckians too. In fact, with legalized gambling Kentucky would stand a good chance of claiming some of Tennessee’s tourists for ourselves.

The legalization of gambling in the Commonwealth opens a number of doors that were previously closed to Kentucky citizens. The revenue generated by taxing something Kentuckians already do illegally and in other states will be a huge benefit to our economy, and the funds collected could be used to improve the everyday lives of citizens across Kentucky.