Kentucky Gaming Debate to Resume

Kentucky lawmakers are slated to begin debating two bills that would change the state constitution to allow casino gambling, in what could be lawmakers’ last try to expand gaming. The bill has the backing of Governor Steve Beshear (l.).

Kentucky Gaming Debate to Resume

Bills introduced in House and Senate

Lawmakers in Kentucky are expected to begin debate this week on two measures that would call for a constitutional amendment on gaming. Expanding gaming in Kentucky has been a failed effort for several years under Governor Steve Beshear, who has consistently said casino gaming is needed to make the state’s storied racetracks competitive with those in surrounding states.

In December, State Rep. Larry Clark pre-filed two gaming bills for the 2014 session, one that would allow five racetrack-operated casinos, and another that would allow three stand-alone casinos. The second bill would permit tracks to compete against non-racetrack developers for three casinos.

Both measures would provide for a simple ballot question to amend Kentucky’s state constitution to allow casino gambling. Unlike former failed amendment efforts, the horse racing industry would not be mentioned. The ballot question would simply read, “Are you in favor of permitting the General Assembly to pass laws authorizing casino gaming?”

Despite repeated failures to get a gaming bill through the legislature, Senate Majority Leader Dan Seum, who has filed a bill in the Senate to legalize gaming, told the Yogonet website that this year’s bill could succeed simply because the state needs the additional revenue. “The state needs the money,” he said, “It’s either pass a tax or do this. Which one do you want?”

Seum’s bill, unlike Clark’s measures in the House, includes a provision guaranteeing a percentage of casino revenues to the horse-racing industry. In an interview with radio station KET, Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo endorsed the amendment proposed by Seum, a Republican. Some observers say this could set up a rift between Stumbo and Clark as the two bills move forward.

Beshear told the AP he holds out hope that lawmakers will finally give citizens a chance to vote on expanded gaming, which he had made a main theme of his first gubernatorial campaign in 2007.

“I don’t harbor false hopes, but I’m encouraged that for the first time we’re getting some very meaningful conversations from both sides of the aisle in both houses,” Beshear said.

Beshear also endorsed expanded gaming in his State of the Commonwealth address last week, saying the issue should be put to the people. “They want to vote on this issue, and we should let them decide whether to continue allowing Kentucky tax money to flow across our borders or to keep it here at home,” he said.

Beshear said he will not use projected gambling revenues in the budget he will soon submit to lawmakers, as he did early on.

Senate President Robert Stivers told WKU Public Radio last week that politics will not come into play in the gaming debate, promising to oppose any gaming measure that garners support through promises of political favors or patronage.