2017-08-02 / Front Page

Could casinos lift county, region out of economic woes?

Could a well-regulated casino bring much needed revenue to Letcher County and other border counties in central Appalachia while helping the residents of those counties make a decent living?

That question is being asked more frequently as discussions about the potential benefits of legalized gambling have now started in southeastern Kentucky and southwest Virginia.

On Friday (August 4), a group known as “Jobs 4 Kentucky” will kick off its “Border Gaming Initiative” at SOAR Summit 2017 at the East Kentucky Expo Center in Pikeville. Members of the group hope that Kentucky will soon legalize casino gambling, which would allow them to move forward with their plans to lure a casino/hotel project to the Jenkins area of Letcher County.

Jobs 4 Kentucky official James Hibbits says the group is quite serious about using casino gambling to help solve the region’s economic woes — so much so that it is already working closely with existing casinos on Indian reservations in North Carolina.

“It’s my dream, but it’s become our vision,” Hibbits said of the other members of Jobs 4 Kentucky. He said he would have more to say about the group and its plans for the Jenkins area after the SOAR Summit.

Jobs 4 Kentucky has a website (www.jobs4kentucky.com) and Facebook page, both of which contain the following statement:

“Kentucky has enjoyed the time-honored sport of horse racing since the 1700’s. The rich history of the sport is a part of the ‘unbridled spirit’ of this proud state, and our vision is to build on that heritage to allow expanded gaming along our border communities.

“The Border Gaming Initiative is our approach to creating gaming facilities that place the operations in our border communities where they are needed the most and where jobs and stability will make a critical impact. Our state has been sending revenues beyond our borders for too long! Help us create gaming options that capitalize on our surrounding state populations and bring Kentucky tax dollars back home.”

A bill filed in the Kentucky State Senate in February would allow voters to amend the Constitution of Kentucky to permit casino gaming, but the bill mandates that 100 percent of the proceeds from the casinos go to retirement systems. Hibbits said that he and other members of his group hope to meet soon with the bill’s three sponsors and talk with them about how casinos could help eastern Kentucky.

Talk about casino gambling has been stirring hard in southwest Virginia since July 23, when the Roanoke Times carried a commentary from southwest Virginia attorney Frank Kilgore urging that state “to look seriously at allowing tightlyregulated casinos into its poorest jurisdictions.”

Writes Kilgore: “If Cherokee, North Carolina is a good example, hundreds of much needed direct and indirect jobs would be provided, county residents would receive a big spike in personal average income and the county tax bases would jump skyward overnight. Then, instead of being disproportionate state revenue receivers, these poor Virginia counties would become state revenue payers, freeing up state subsidies for other needy localities.”

Adds Kilgore: “If anyone has a better (and realistic) idea how to turn the poorest southwest Virginia counties into more prosperous economies then they sure are keeping it a secret.”

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