Gambling Amendment Introduced

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

The wait is over! A 131-word constitutional amendment to expand gambling in Kentucky was announced this morning by Republican Senator Damon Thayer and Democratic Governor Steve Beshear.

Let the war of words on the expansion of casino-style gambling in the Commonwealth begin.

Here is an excerpt released this morning from the governor’s press office:

“We’ve been debating this issue in Frankfort for more than 15 years. The citizens of our state are clamoring to have their voices heard,” Gov. Beshear said. “Two recent polls show more than 80 percent of Kentuckians want to cast a ballot on gaming. Are we going to listen to them or not?”

The bill would allow Kentucky voters to approve a constitutional amendment that would authorize up to five casinos at racetracks and two at stand-alone locations at least 60 miles from the nearest racetrack. Revenue from the gaming facilities would be spent for job creation, education, human services, health care, veterans’ programs, local governments, public safety, and support of the horse industry.

“The time has come to let the people decide on the issue of expanded gambling,” said Sen. Thayer. “This issue has been lingering in Kentucky for nearly two decades, a majority of Kentuckians wish to vote on it, and the time has come to give them that opportunity.”

Here’s the Lexington Herald-Leader:

Beshear, a Democrat, introduced similar legislation four years ago, also on Feb. 14, that failed to pass. He had been expected to renew the push again during this legislative session but the General Assembly has been tied up in debate over redistricting.

The governor has said that he sees the necessary 23 votes in the Senate to pass a constitutional amendment, but State Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, says it “is close.” Thayer heads the Senate State and Local Government Committee that takes up constitutional amendments.

The Louisville Courier-Journal also posted this story today:

The proposed amendment does not specify which racetracks would get casinos, or where the non-track casinos could be located.

Kentucky has eight racetracks and a ninth license available that has never been awarded. In previous proposals, the two Lexington tracks shared a license.

The opposition to expanded gambling is considerable, and the most powerful foe is Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville. Williams has said the amendment will be sent to Thayer’s State & Local Government Committee.

The Family Foundation of Kentucky is among the most outspoken groups against expanded gambling and has already declared Beshear’s proposal as being dead.

One challenge for Beshear is lining up support among legislators who support expanded gambling but might have preferred an amendment that didn’t guarantee any locations for racetracks or preferred an amendment that only allowed casinos at tracks.

Another wrinkle is House Speaker Greg Stumbo, the Prestonsburg Democrat who has supported expanded gambling but would prefer to do it by law without an amendment. Stumbo has said he is open to considering an amendment if it passes the Senate.

For the next few days and weeks, there will be a flurry of activity, news conferences, speeches, and committee meetings addressing the issue. Stay tuned to KET for more.

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