‘Crunch Time’ in Kentucky

The COO of Churchill Downs says he is still optimistic expanded gaming can pass Kentucky’s legislature this year, although time is running out. Governor Steve Beshear (l.) is mounting one last push.

With the prospect of expanded gaming in Kentucky facing likely defeat for a seventh consecutive year since Steve Beshear became governor partly on a promise of casinos in the state, a top executive of Churchill Downs is expressing optimism that one of the two expansion bills before the legislature can pass.

Bills in the state House and Senate to create a constitutional amendment legalizing casinos have gone nowhere, as leaders in each chamber have said they want the other to act first, and neither measure appears to have the three-fifths majority to pass such a bill.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Greg Stumbo filed a new bill to create a constitutional amendment to legalize gaming, just before last week’s filing deadline.

House Bill 584 would add a line to the constitution that says, “Nothing in this section shall preclude the General Assembly from authorizing other forms of gaming by general law.”

If three-fifths of both chambers approve, the question that would be sent to voters for ratification would be: “Are you in favor of allowing the General Assembly to pass laws authorizing other forms of gaming?”

Churchill Downs Chief Operating Officer Bill Carstanjen, speaking with investors on a conference call last week, expressed some optimism, while saying that time is short to pass a measure in this year’s session. “It’s getting to crunch time of the session,” he said. “We have some cause to be optimistic, but our issues are wrapped up in other issues that can affect us that are hard to predict.”

Carstanjen spoke with investors following a meeting between representatives of Kentucky thoroughbred tracks met with racing commission member Frank Jones and state House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark, the sponsor of House legislation to create a constitutional amendment expanding gaming, and of a separate enacting bill that would create both racetrack and stand-alone casinos. He said track executives remain “heavily engaged” in pursuing casino gambling.

Churchill Chairman and CEO Bob Evans, who chairs the pro-casino “Kentucky Wins” campaign, said last week that the campaign has received 71,000 “likes” on Facebook and has generated more than 6,000 emails and 1,700 phone calls to state legislators in favor of expanding gambling to include casinos.