The proposed Cumberland Run quarter horse race track for Corbin still looks like it is going to happen and the state legislature isn’t likely to take any action regarding pension reform this upcoming legislative session although the issue of sports betting as a way to fund the pension system might be a topic of conversation.
These were some of the topics discussed during a Nov. 28 press conference at the Whitley County Courthouse with Republican senate leaders.
The senators were in Whitley County last week for a Republican Caucus Retreat to plan their agenda for the upcoming legislative session in 2019.
Senate President Robert Stivers, who represents Whitley County, said he couldn’t see any reason why the Cumberland Run track won’t still happen in Corbin.
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission recently agreed to award an unused racetrack license for a proposed racetrack in western Kentucky called Oak Grove, which has prompted speculation about the proposed Corbin racetrack.
Stivers noted that the Cumberland Run racetrack would use an already existing racing license, which was previously used at the now closed Thunder Ridge racetrack in Prestonsburg.
“I think they (the Kentucky Racing Commission) were wrestling with this initial issue about Oak Grove. I think now they will turn their focus to allowing the transfer (of the existing license). Hopefully it won’t be delayed much longer because that is an already existing racing license,” Stivers said.
The retreat was held last Wednesday evening through Friday at Cumberland Falls State Park.
Stivers said the caucus retreat has been happening for most of the 20 years that Republicans have been in control of the Kentucky Senate.
Initially, the meetings were held in Louisville annually, and then in 2013, Republican leaders decided to move it around to different locations in the state, such as Owensboro, Maysville, Paducah and Berea.
Republican Caucus Chair Julie Raque Adams said during Wednesday’s press conference that the meeting included planned briefings Thursday by the governor’s office and from several cabinets, in addition to updates on some pending litigation.
Friday’s session was reserved for senators to update other senators about their priorities, initiatives, and so forth in order to get an idea on where Republican legislators wanted to go in terms of legislation.
Prior to last Wednesday’s press conference, Republican senators spent about two hours meeting with about 30 officials from Whitley County, Corbin and Williamsburg to hear their concerns and priorities.
Stivers said that Republican leaders heard some accolades and got some questions.
“There is an issue about annexation with Corbin in Laurel County, and about it being really a tri-county city. There are some issues about adventure tourism. Superintendent (John) Siler here at the Whitley County school system wanted to talk about where we were going, and basically preparing our young students for trades, skills and future employment opportunities that was a long discussion and an example of some of what we discussed with them,” Stivers said.
Stivers said he doesn’t foresee the legislature taking any additional action regarding pension reform next year until it sees how the Kentucky Supreme Court rules on this year’s pension reform bill, and how the ruling impacts that.
“Without that potential guidance as to what they think our process should be, we are limited with what we can really deal with right now,” Stivers said.
The issue of funding for the state’s eight different pensions funds isn’t going away either, senators noted.
At least one Democratic candidate for governor has proposed legalizing casino gaming and sports betting with proceeds going to fund the state pension system.
“The best I have heard is maybe $18 – $20 million, and that is with full implementation with brick and mortar and interactive betting, and including all aspects of every sport,” Stivers noted about how much revenue sports betting might generate. “The NCAA has not told us kind of what their position is. To my understanding, the NCAA doesn’t want to be involved in sports betting. We saw at U of L what happens when you inject just tennis shoe money as opposed to gaming money.”
If betting on college sports isn’t included in any kind of sports betting law, Stivers said most experts agree that sports betting proceeds would probably be cut in half.
Senator Damon Thayer added he is for sports betting, but he thinks it is naïve just to advocate for sports betting just as a means of funding the pension system.
“I am for sports betting because I think we already have sports betting. It is called pari-mutuel betting on horse racing. It is a natural extension of that. I think we should have it at brick and mortar facilities likes racetracks that are already engaged in it,” Thayer said.
“I am for it because I am for it, not because I am trying to pander to a particular group of people, who think it is going to the panacea to solve our pension problem. It is not.”
Thayer said that he thinks there is little sentiment in the senate for expanded casino style gambling.
“As someone, who has sponsored that bill in the past, pardon the pun but I think the ship has sailed on that issue,” he added.