Sponsor of casino bill says he's open to changes if governor wants them

jpatton1@herald-leader.comFebruary 15, 2012 

Special Session

Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, talks about a bill during the special legislative session in Frankfort, Ky., Friday, May 28, 2010. (AP Photo/Ed Reinke)

ED REINKE — ASSOCIATED PRESS

FRANKFORT — Changes may be coming to Gov. Steve Beshear's proposal for as many as seven casinos in Kentucky.

Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said he is open to revisions that address concerns raised after he introduced the constitutional amendment Tuesday.

"If the governor wants to change the language, I'd be happy to offer a committee substitute, but I'm not going to get into the negotiations either way," Thayer said Wednesday.

Some key lawmakers said they had problems with Beshear's plan, which calls for as many as five casinos at racetracks and two freestanding ones not within 60 miles of a track. If passed, the constitutional amendment would be on the November ballot, with the General Assembly to decide most regulatory details later.

On Wednesday, several Democrats said they were on the fence about Beshear's bill.

Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, said she is conflicted about the bill, which might leave open the possibility of a casino in her district.

"I don't think my people want a freestanding casino in my district," she said.

Other lawmakers who want expanded gambling were concerned that their cities might be excluded.

Tom Fromme, Newport city manager, said his city and sister city Covington made the case to Beshear on Feb. 3 that cities like theirs should be allowed to vote locally on whether to approve a casino.

"Instead, the governor's restricted it to a very narrow field," Fromme said.

A casino at Turfway Park in Florence would probably mean no casino closer to the river, he said.

"I think we should at least be in consideration," Fromme said. "We got hit with this between the eyes. ... We had no clue this was the direction this was going."

Meanwhile, House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said changes would be likely before the Democratic-controlled House could vote on it.

But first, the measure must get out of the Republican-controlled Senate.

Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, criticized the bill as giving a monopoly to racetracks. Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Dan Seum, R-Louisville, suggested that the state could raise more revenue by putting all the licenses up for bid.

Williams on Wednesday called the bill, "a bizarre proposal," saying it shows Beshear's intent to protect the racetracks and "to take care of a few people who are big contributors."

Beshear said he was pleased that legislators "are thoroughly reviewing a bill that will finally let the people vote on expanded gaming. As with all legislation, changes are possible during the process, and it is important that all voices be heard."

Janet Patton: (859) 231-3264. Twitter: @janetpattonhl.

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