Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, in the midst of a contentious re-election campaign, clashed with his Democratic opponent Andy Beshear Saturday in a televised debate. In doing so, the Republican incumbent may have opened himself up to scrutiny after he and Beshear once again tussled over the topic of expanded gaming.
Beshear brought up remarks Bevin, a staunch opponent of expanded gaming, made nearly three months ago on a western Kentucky radio show regarding casinos and suicides. The governor responded incredulously.
Here’s a transcript from Louisville TV station WLKY, which aired the debate held at Bellarmine University in the state’s largest city.
Beshear: This is just more of the same from a governor who says that someone commits suicide on a casino floor every night.
Bevin: I don’t know where this comment about the casinos is. I’ve never said anything like that in my life. That’s absolute malarkey, but I will say this…
Beshear: You deny saying it?
Bevin: I do deny saying it.
Beshear: It’s on tape.
Bevin: No, it isn’t on tape. You’re not telling the truth.
Contrary to Bevin’s claim, WKDZ-FM still has a link to the audio clip on its Web page. (Note: It’s the third clip on the page).
In an interview with News Edge, Bevin said: “We can pretend that there’s no negative societal costs associated with casino gambling, but every night, somewhere in America, somebody takes their life in a casino because they’ve wasted the last semblance of dignity and hope that they had. Families are ruined. Lives are ruined. There is societal cost.”
While organizations that support problem gamblers said there is a correlation between gambling addiction and suicide, no one could verify Bevin’s claim. One advocate said he could only remember one instance where a gambler killed themselves at a casino in 20 years.
Polls Indicate Close Race
The gubernatorial election takes place on Nov. 5, a week from Tuesday. A Mason-Dixon poll released earlier this month shows the race is a tie, with both candidates receiving 46 percent support.
Casino gaming became a topic because Beshear has made it part of his platform to bolster funding for the state’s public employee pension programs. With casinos in Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio located right across the Ohio River from major Kentucky population centers, Beshear estimates the state loses out on about $500 million in tax revenue annually.
While Matt Bevin is making up excuses and false claims, Indiana and our neighboring states continue to steal our revenue,” Beshear said in a statement announcing his plan last month. “I’ll always put the best interests of our people first — and that includes expanding gaming to create new opportunities here in Kentucky.”
He’s calling for less than 10 casinos to be built statewide, as well as legalizing sports betting, fantasy sports, and online poker. Republican leaders in the state Senate, however, have stated any casino gaming legislation would not pass.
Attempts to pass a sports betting bill died in the House earlier this year. But its backers plan to bring up the legislation again next year.
Campaign Contributions from Churchill Downs Executives
While Kentucky does not have any casino gaming, it is home to Churchill Downs, Inc., a gaming company that owns casinos in Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Maine, and Maryland. It also owns a share of casinos based in Illinois and Ohio.
However, when it comes to the governor’s race, officials from the company are split on whom they’re backing.
According to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance, employees from Churchill Downs have contributed $15,000 to either primary or general election campaigns for the gubernatorial candidates. Of that, $8,500 has been given to Beshear and $6,500 to Bevin.
However, Churchill’s three most senior executives – CEO Bill Carstanjen, president and COO Bill Mudd, and executive vice president and CFO Marcia Dall – all gave Bevin $2,000 for his general election campaign.
For Beshear, notable donors include Kevin Flanery, a senior vice president who serves as president for the company’s namesake track, who contributed $1,000, and Michael Ziegler, the company’s executive director for racing, who gave $500.