After killing gambling proposal, legislators say they're moving on

jpatton1@herald-leader.comFebruary 24, 2012 

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg

If you listen to the baying for blood, especially Republican blood, by gambling proponents online, then you might think a revolution is coming.

But previous experience says Kentucky voters are unlikely to be waving political pitchforks in November over Thursday's defeat of Gov. Steve Beshear's gambling bill in the Republican-majority Senate led by Sen. David Williams, R-Burkesville.

"There is not going to be any punishment for this," said Stephen Voss, University of Kentucky political science professor. "When you talk about the electorate ... very few care so much about gambling that it's going to govern their vote."

Issue votes — things like gay marriage, abortion or civil rights — typically have very deep sway with voters. So much that one issue can outweigh everything else about a candidate, experts say.

Recent polls by racetracks and by the Kentucky Republican Party found that at least 80 percent of voters wanted a casino gambling measure on the ballot in November, but that doesn't necessarily translate into passion at the polls.

"I just don't believe there is that deep support for casino gambling as an issue," Voss said.

Joe Gershtensen, political science professor at Eastern Kentucky University, concurred.

"In terms of 'this time we're going to throw them out,' " he said, "believe it when you see it. There's no reason to suspect that will be the case."

While there may be widespread sentiment to allow casino gambling, most senators are aware of how their core constituencies feel and will vote that way, he said.

"If they (constituents) were going to vote against it, how upset are they going to be if it's not on the ballot?" he said.

In Thursday's vote, 21 senators — 16 Republicans, one independent and four Democrats — voted against putting a constitutional amendment on the November ballot. The amendment would have allowed up to seven casinos across the state, with protective buffer zones around racetracks.

The constitutional amendment needed 23 votes to move to the House, but only 16 senators favored the proposal by Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown: six Republicans and 10 Democrats.

Two members of leadership broke with their respective parties: Minority Caucus Chair Johnny Ray Turner, D-Prestonsburg, voted against Beshear's bill, and Majority Whip Carroll Gibson, R-Leitchfield, voted in support.

While one or two individual senators might become marginalized within their caucuses because of the vote, wholesale leadership changes are unlikely, the experts said.

"If this leads to any major shake-ups in the composition of the Senate, I would be surprised," Gershtensen said.

Public frustration over not being able to vote on the issue likely will continue, he said.

"There's fairly widespread sentiment to let the people of the commonwealth make that determination, not withhold it and make the decision in Frankfort," he said. "At the same time, people have short memories."

The horse industry and racetracks said they will do what they can to remind them.

"The plan is to continue trying to put our industry on a level competitive playing field," said Patrick Neely, spokesman for the Kentucky Equine Education Project. "We've got to pick ourselves up and get back in the fight. The fight is passing legislation."

But Friday the fight appeared to be over for now. Thayer said after the bill's defeat that he would not sponsor an amendment again or attempt to load similar language onto another bill. "I'm done," he said.

And House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, on Friday poured more cold water on any remaining embers, saying he does not think that an amendment to allow casino gambling will be introduced or passed in the House this legislative session.

"I think it's probably dead for this session," Stumbo said, but noted that no measure is ever dead until the last day of the legislative session. "It got a full and fair hearing, and now it's time to move on."

After the skirmishes over gambling and redistricting, that could be tough.

"The battle over the budget could be pretty fierce," Gershtensen said. "I would anticipate this being very contentious. This is a reflection of the partisanship that is rampant in Frankfort right now."

Herald-Leader reporter Beth Musgrave contributed to this article.Janet Patton: (859) 231-3264. Twitter: @janetpattonhl

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service