Kentucky Senate leader says there's no sentiment to act on expanded gambling

jbrammer@herald-leader.comFebruary 10, 2014 

FRANKFORT — There is no sentiment in the state Senate to approve expanded gambling in Kentucky, Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer said Monday night after Senate Republicans met for more than an hour behind closed doors to discuss the issue.

Supporters of expanded gambling expressed disappointment while opponents said they were not surprised.

Thayer, R-Georgetown, told reporters after the Senate GOP caucus in the Capitol Annex that if Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear truly wanted it, he would need to persuade the Democratic-controlled House to take up the measure.

"This is a bill that has been around for a long time. But in recent years, it has been one of the top proposals of the current governor, whose party controls the House of Representatives," said Thayer. "The Senate has dealt with this bill on the floor of the Senate in the past. The House has never dealt with a constitutional amendment (on gambling) on the floor of the House.

"If the governor wants it badly enough, he ought to go to the members of his own party in the chamber that they control and try to push the bill."

Beshear press secretary Kerri Richardson said the governor would have no comment Monday night.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, could not be reached for comment.

During their closed caucus, Senate Republicans considered Senate Bill 33, sponsored by Sen. Dan Seum, R-Louisville, that would let Kentucky voters decide whether they wanted to change the state Constitution to allow casino gambling at no more than seven locations and dedicate 10 percent of the revenue to promote the horse industry.

The state's share of the revenue would go to job creation, education, human services, health care, veterans' bonuses, local government and public safety.

House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark, D-Louisville, is sponsoring a constitutional amendment in House Bill 67 that simply asks voters whether they want to expand gambling.

His House Bill 68 outlines a plan to license and regulate casino gambling at five racetracks and three standalone casinos.

Neither the House nor the Republican-led Senate wants to be the first to make a move on expanded gambling. This is an election year, and Republicans are seeking to gain five seats and take control of the House for the first time since 1920.

Asked Monday night whether the Senate as waiting for the House to act first on expanded gambling, Seum said, "At this point in time I have no plans to put it on the floor, obviously, until I have the necessary votes to pass a constitutional amendment."

Passage of a constitutional amendment proposal requires approval from 60 percent of the members in the 38-member Senate and 100-member House. The governor cannot veto any legislation dealing with constitutional amendments.

Seum would not say how many votes shy of winning approval his measure was.

He did say reaction from the Senate GOP caucus did not mean his bill was dead.

Asked what would be needed to get Senate approval of his measure, Seum said, "Time."

Monday was the 24th day of this year's 60-day session.

Ed Glasscock, a Louisville lawyer who is co-chairman of the pro-casino group Kentucky Wins, said he was "extremely disappointed" with the news from the Senate.

"I hope the sentiment changes because this is disappointing for the people of this commonwealth. If legislators don't pass this amendment, there will not be sufficient funding for our horse industry, education, pension deficits, laid-off coal miners, many other programs in need," Glasscock said.

Paul Chitwood, executive director of the 750,000-member Kentucky Baptist Convention, said, "It may be too early to declare gambling legislation dead, but clearly it's on life support.

"Lawmakers realize that legalizing casinos is a bad idea because of the misery they'd bring to Kentucky. They're also aware that voting for casinos could very well cost them re-election because so many Kentuckians oppose the idea."

Chitwood said his group was "aware that no bill is truly dead as long the legislature is in session, but we do hope that this one doesn't survive."

Martin Cothran of The Family Foundation said he was not surprised there was no sentiment in the legislature to act on expanded gambling.

"That's been our read for a little while now," he said. "We really don't see any more strength for it than in past sessions. With it, Kentuckians will lose revenue to the state and out-of-state casinos."

Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: Bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.

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