Legislation shielding gambling industry not helpful

Published 10:05 am Thursday, April 1, 2021

Kentucky is counting down to the end of the General Assembly session with midnight being the deadline for lawmakers to finish business.

It’s sometimes during those last hours that the most action takes place. Kentucky Baptists are holding their collective breath that any legislation on the last day would not involve aiding the gambling industry.

At stake could be $1.3 billion that Kentucky is owed by an online poker company that ran what the Kentucky Supreme Court said in December was “an illegal internet gambling criminal syndicate.”

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The high court said Kentucky’s Justice and Public Safety Cabinet legally was entitled to collect damages on behalf of about 34,000 Kentuckians who lost more than $290 million on PokerStars’ website from 2006 to 2011. Wagering on online poker is illegal in Kentucky. State law allows lawsuits to recover money lost to such gambling.

Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate sided with the state in 2015, ordering the company to pay $290 million and then tripling the damages for what he cited as illegal behavior. The Court of Appeals later reversed Wingate, but the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals.

“The commonwealth’s recovery in this case is certainly not a windfall, as the Court of Appeals seems to assume; rather, it is a recoupment of some portion of the countless dollars the criminal syndicate has cost Kentucky collectively and Kentuckians individually,” the Supreme Court ruled in December.

Any change in legislation that may provide a way for the gambling industry to alter or change that decision would not benefit Kentucky in any way. Lawmakers should know they are being watched even into the late hours.

“Most Kentucky Baptists have been disappointed to see the General Assembly’s passage of Historic Horse Racing during the session,” said Dr. Todd Gray, the executive director-treasurer of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. “It is our hope that state legislators will refrain from passing any legislation on the last day of the session that would benefit the gambling industry.”

Already, the General Assembly has acted in the gambling industry’s corner with Senate Bill 120 that created a legal definition for parimutuel wagering – which is one of the few forms of gambling allowed in Kentucky’s constitution – to include historical horse racing machines, a slot-like game that bases winning on the results of previously run horse races.

“Kentucky Baptists oppose gambling in all its forms,” Gray said. “Gambling hurts families. We also oppose the unbridled greed of the gaming industry trying to get out of paying the taxes they owe the citizens of the commonwealth.”