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Friday, February 03, 2012

We Agree With Lexington Herald Leader That "Openness [is] Urgent In Gambling Push". The Question Is: Will Kentuckians Get It?

Openness urgent in gambling push

Special Session

Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, talks about a bill during the special legislative session in Frankfort, Ky., Friday, May 28, 2010. (AP Photo/Ed Reinke) ED REINKE — ASSOCIATED PRESS

Here's a news flash for Gov. Steve Beshear: The election's over, you won.

The governor, who's really a pretty smart guy and knows better, engaged in the typical overwrought speech of the campaign trail on his way to a decisive victory over Senate president David Williams in the fall.

That's one thing, but it's quite another to keep the take-no-prisoners rhetoric going while he's actually trying to govern.

Unfortunately, that's what Beshear did this week as he assailed Williams, R-Burkesville, over a story by Herald-Leader reporter John Cheves about Sen. Damon Thayer, a proponent of casino gambling, a cause dear to the governor's heart.

Thayer, R-Georgetown, makes his living as a consultant to racing interests, who stand to benefit from casinos in Kentucky. Cheves asked Thayer both to name his clients and if any of them would benefit from casino gambling.

Thayer declined to provide the information, something which appears to be within his rights under Kentucky ethics laws.

Beshear responded by implying Williams, a longtime opponent of casinos in Kentucky, had colluded with the newspaper to intimidate Thayer, an accusation that is ridiculous on its face.

Whatever the flaws of Williams and this newspaper, the history of the relationship between the two relegates Beshear's suggestion to the realm of fantasy.

But that's not really the problem here. The decision about allowing casino gambling in Kentucky is a high-stakes game. In addition to whatever benefit will flow to the state, some private parties stand to make millions upon millions of dollars if casinos are approved, including racing interests.

Kentuckians have every reason to be worried about the potential for unethical, back-door influence buying.

Beshear's campaign-like invective and absurd accusations don't do anything to reassure the public that the discussion of casino gambling will be above-board and rational.

Thayer didn't help, either, calling the story a "hatchet job."

Beshear should encourage Thayer, who chairs the Senate committee that will hear a casino proposal, to provide the information. Thayer made the legitimate point that his clients did not sign on knowing their relationship would be disclosed, but public service comes with some costs and dealing with that may just be one of them for him.

There's every reason for Kentuckians to worry that casino gambling could tap into our state's unfortuante history of public corruption.

Those who advocate for expanded gambling will serve their cause much better by pushing for full transparency as this discussion moves forward than by engaging in the mud-slinging Beshear resorted to this week.

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