Group Backs Wise County, Kentucky Casino Development Plan

Red Rock Resort - Casino Wise County KY - Jenkins Kentucky Casino

James Hibbits stands atop Pine Mountain, where the Red Rock Resort would be developed.

Residents of Wise County, Kentucky are backing a casino project in the hope of boosting the coalfield economy. James Hibbits of Raven Rock Entertainment, which is leading the push for a Wise County casino, said it was the brisk sale of lottery tickets that gave him and his partners the idea for a casino development.

Wise County sits on the border between Virginia and Kentucky. Such a casino would not only draw interest from residents in the east part of Kentucky, specifically to Pine Mountain in Jenkins. It would draw residents of Virginia, because Virginia does not have legal brick-and-mortar casino gambling.

The problem with the plan is that Kentucky also has a ban on casino gambling. Unlike Virginia, though, the Kentucky state legislature appears receptive to legislation which would overturn that ban. The coalfield casino, which is named Red Rock Resort, is the second Virginia casino plan proposed at the moment.

James Hibbits says the motivation behind Wise County casino is straightforward — and one that most residents should get behind. Hibbits said, “This whole entire region is hurting and we need jobs. And somebody needed to stand up and offer up something.”

Churchill Downs Seeks Louisville Casino

Kentucky is friendlier to gaming interests than Virginia, because of Kentucky’s long traditional with the horse racing industry. For decades, horse betting interests kept other forms of land-based gambling out of Kentucky, for fear of the competition.

Now Churchill Downs in Louisville is involved in the land-based casino and racino industry in other states. Churchill Downs also wants to build a casino in Louisville itself, to keep gamblers from crossing the Ohio River to play in Cincinnati casinos.

With Churchill Downs pushing a casino amendment, the group behind James Hibbits’ plan would like to see a second Kentucky casino project. The group, which is backed by wealthy Kentuckians, wants to build a $250 million casino in Jenkins.

Matt Bevin Opposes Casinos

The campaign to build a Wise County casino is likely to be long and hardfought. The Kentucky state legislature has turned down several bills to legalize casino gambling — and some of those campaigns were quite recent. Churchill Downs’ own proposals failed to gain traction in 2016 and 2017.

Gov. Matt Bevin (R) was adamantly opposed to those plans. Bevin wants to keep Kentucky free of land-based casinos, because of the social impact of problem gambling. Gov. Bevin argues the economic impact would be mixed at best.

Economic Impact of Kentucky Casinos

The proponents of a Wise County casino say the economic impact would be measured in lowered capital flight out of the state. Kentucky is in the rare situation of bordering 7 different US states. Five of those states have legal land casinos.

When such states license new casino operations, they often place them near the border with other states — especially those which ban casino gambling. The idea is to draw customers from two states. That means Kentucky ringed along its state borders, so most Kentucky residents live within 100 miles or so of an out of state casino.

In the thinking of casino proponents, Kentucky residents already gamble in casinos. A ban is ineffective, because it does not keep citizens from doing the very act it is meant to stop. In that situation, the ban only means that hardearned Kentucky money flows out of the state — and Kentucky’s government loses millions in tax revenues each year.

As Hibbits said, “We have to figure this thing out as people to move forward. Do we want to give up? Or do we want to fight?”

Kentucky Casinos Legalized?

One reason Kentucky’s elected officials might change their mind in 2019 and beyond is the looming pension crisis. The state seems unable to solve the pension benefits for many government policies, at least without raising taxes.

If lawmakers wish to avoid raising the tax rate, then they have to find new sources of tax revenues. Casino revenues would be a voluntary tax which would back the Kentucky business community. In a time when gambling has become much more accepted as a simple business by most Americans, Kentucky casinos might make sense for the state government.