Ky House leaders want Senate to take lead on gambling


by Joe Arnold

Posted on January 15, 2014 at 6:53 PM

Updated Thursday, Jan 16 at 12:23 AM

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WHAS11) -- The legislative effort to legalize casino gambling in Kentucky began anew on Wednesday as the House Licensing and Occupations Committee discussed but did not vote on two companion bills sponsored by House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark (D-Louisville).

Yet Clark said House Democratic leadership wants the Republican-led Senate to pass a gambling bill, first.  And, racetracks need to be on the same page.

"I've asked them to all meet and send to me in writing what they like or dislike," Clark said after the meeting.  "They're not going to cherrypick.  It's going to be a complete negotiation, not one day, everyday doing something different, and hopefully they'll do that and we can sit back down with the Senate and talk about, 'here's the difference, how we fix them.'"

Clark is sponsoring two companion bills.

House Bill 67 is a constitutional amendment to be placed on the fall ballot that would simply allow casinos.

"If it's not a clean amendment, it's dead on arrival in the House," Clark said.  "We're not going to put specific things into the Constitution."

House Bill 68 has the details of how Kentucky would implement casinos if voters approve the amendment, such as the number of casinos and how revenues would be split.

"It's sort of a legislative way of crossing your fingers behind your back," said Martin Cothran of the Family Foundation of Kentucky.  "If they really meant it, we think they would put it in the constitution."

Clark proposes up to eight casinos, five of them at racetracks. 

The state's bleak budget picture and looming cuts could advance the issue.  Clark said Kentucky could start making money as early as next year from the sale of casino licenses.   Under his plan, casino operators would pay at least $50 million for a five-year license.

Casino opponents get their turn to testify next week.

Sen. Dan Seum (R-Fairdale) proposes no more than seven casinos, not necessarily at racetracks.

"This isn't going to be just one side against the other," said Chairman Dennis Keene (D-Wilder).  "We're going to try to get something that works on both sides because if it can't pass on both sides, it's not going to work."

The debate commences against the backdrop of this fall's election, where opponents say a gambling referendum could drive religiously conservative voters to the polls.

"This very well could be the 'House Republican Majority Act of 2014,'" Cothran said, "because you've got Democratic legislators who are going to have to make a controversial vote. It's going to anger a lot of their constituents."

"I don't think it affects the elections of the general assembly," Keene countered.