Top House Dems downplay chances for gambling bill

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Associated Press

Posted on February 12, 2014 at 7:02 PM

Updated Wednesday, Feb 12 at 7:02 PM

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Top House Democrats on Tuesday downplayed chances of passing legislation that could bring casinos to Kentucky, one day after Senate Republicans declared it lacks enough votes to pass in their chamber.

House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark said he's still negotiating with racetrack owners in hopes of crafting a version that could win broad enough support to put the issue on the ballot for Kentucky voters to decide. But he seemed pessimistic.

House leaders weren't budging on their insistence that the Senate take up the issue first. House Speaker Greg Stumbo said there's no reason for the House to take up a bill that's "just going to die over there."

"I don't see any reason to put any effort into it," said Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg.

Senate Republicans who control their chamber met Monday night to discuss expanded gambling, a perennial issue that has routinely died in this Bible-belt state with a long history of wagering on horses.

After that meeting, Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Dan Seum said he wasn't giving up on his proposal to put the casino issue on the November ballot. Any legislation proposing a change to the state Constitution needs at least 23 supporting votes in the 38-member Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said Monday night that Gov. Steve Beshear, an expanded gambling supporter, should push the measure in the Democratic-run House. Thayer has sponsored expanded gambling legislation in the past in hopes of helping the state's racing industry.

Stumbo replied that the House needs to see evidence that the Senate is able to pass the proposal this time. He said a ballot measure should be the "easiest vote in the world politically."

"You simply say, 'let the people decide what they want,'" he said.

Clark, D-Louisville, said he's planning to meet with racetrack owners next week in hopes of reaching a compromise that unites them. Without such unity, the issue will die, said Clark, who he has been negotiating with the tracks for the past few months.

"We're moving forward but we're taking baby steps," he said. "Next week, we've got to either bring it to closure or move forward."

The General Assembly's 60-day session reaches the halfway point next week.

Clark is sponsoring two gambling proposals. One would put the issue on the ballot for voters to decide whether to legalize casino gambling. A companion bill would specify how many casinos would be allowed, how the industry would be regulated and how the state's share of the revenue would be distributed.

His companion bill would allow up to eight casinos statewide, including five run by racetracks. He has said the state would eventually take in an estimated $286 million in yearly casino-related tax revenues.

Seum's proposed constitutional amendment would allow up to seven casinos statewide. He sent a memo to fellow lawmakers last week touting the revenue potential from expanding gambling.

Beshear, who campaigned in support of expanded gambling as a revenue producer, has cut about $1.6 billion from the state budget since taking office in 2007, due to sluggish state revenues caused by the recession. He recommended another $98.6 million in spending cuts in his latest two-year budget proposal in an effort to free up more money for schools.

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