FRANKFORT — House Speaker Greg Stumbo is no longer demanding that any legislation calling for a constitutional amendment to legalize gambling in Kentucky start in the Senate.
"That line in the sand doesn't have to be drawn anymore," Stumbo told reporters during a Capitol news conference on Thursday. "I don't care if it's a House bill or a Senate bill."
Stumbo and Gov. Steve Beshear are hopeful that the departure of Senate President David Williams will improve the chances of getting a gambling bill through the Legislature.
Williams, an opponent of casino gambling, resigned earlier this month to become a circuit judge in southern Kentucky, triggering an election that led to changes in top leadership.
The incoming Senate floor leader, Republican Damon Thayer of Georgetown, is one of the state's leading gambling supporters. And Stumbo said the incoming Senate president, Republican Robert Stivers of Manchester, appears willing to talk with Democratic House leaders and the Democratic governor who has pushed for gambling since he took office in 2007.
Beshear has said he hopes lawmakers might approve a constitutional amendment after they convene in January. If lawmakers do so, the measure would have to be placed on the ballot in 2014 for Kentucky voters to ratify or reject.
The Senate voted down a gambling proposal earlier this year, the latest defeat for what has proved to be a divisive issue in the Bible-belt state.
Despite a long history of wagering on horses, Kentucky has never allowed casinos. And many lawmakers were reluctant to change that, knowing they might face disapproving constituents in coming legislative elections.
Similar proposals to legalize casino-style gambling have been bandied about in Kentucky for two decades, but have never won favor in the General Assembly.
Proponents have said Kentucky could collect $266 million in one-time license fees by allowing casinos to open. Taxing them, they contend, could generate an additional $377 million a year for government programs and services.
Beshear has argued for years that Kentucky is losing hundreds of millions of dollars a year to neighboring states that already have casinos. He said Kentucky needs to legalize casinos so that that money can be kept in the state.
Family Foundation policy analyst Martin Cothran said political leaders should reject calls to raise government revenue through gambling.
"While lawmakers in Washington are talking about soaking the rich, I don't know why state lawmakers would want to consider a means of raising revenue that would soak the poor," Cothran said. "Slot machines would only enrich wealthy gambling interests while impoverishing the people at the lower end of the income scale who play them."