Pro-casino groups divided on gambling legislation

jpatton1@herald-leader.comMarch 7, 2014 

Louisville-based casino advocacy group Kentucky Wins said Friday that it will support any of three proposed gambling bills, including one introduced this week by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg.

But the board of the Kentucky Equine Education Project, a pro-casino horse group, voted Thursday to "strongly oppose" Stumbo's bill, KEEP executive director Robert Heleringer said.

Stumbo has said he didn't confer with horse racing tracks before filing his bill, which would amend the state Constitution to allow the General Assembly to legislate expanded gambling. Stumbo's bill doesn't specify a number of potential casinos; he has not filed companion legislation with details.

House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark, D-Louisville, also has filed a bill that calls for a constitutional amendment to let Kentucky voters decide in November whether they want casino gambling in the state. Clark has filed an accompanying bill that outlines a plan to license and regulate casino gambling at five horse racetracks and three standalone casinos.

State Sen. Dan Seum, R-Louisville, has a proposed amendment that would allow casino gambling at no more than seven places in the state, with 10 percent of the revenue guaranteed "to promote equine interests" and the state's share dedicated to "job creation, education, human services, health care, veterans bonuses, local governments and public safety."

None of the bills has received a vote in committee yet, and the session is more than two-thirds over. The House Licensing and Occupations Committee held informational hearings earlier this year on Clark's bill to allow proponents and opponents of expanded gambling to state their cases.

"We're supportive of all three (bills,)" said Terry McBrayer, a co-chairman of the pro-casino coalition Kentucky Wins. "We're not here to advocate a specific piece of legislation. We just want it listed on the ballot."

McBrayer and co-chairman Jonathan Blue met Friday with the Herald-Leader editorial board.

McBrayer, a Lexington laywer, said some of the tracks and racing interests "want some guarantees to the horse industry," such as Seum's commitment that 10 percent of casino revenue would go to an "equine excellence fund," but that such a designation is more likely to come in enabling legislation.

"There's no guarantee of any kind that (the casino revenue) won't end up in the General Fund," he said.

Although the co-chairmen said they have seen no signs that the bills are likely to be called for a committee vote, they pledged not to give up.

McBrayer suggested that the best chances for any gambling bill to pass might come when lawmakers tackle the budget and see a potential shortfall.

"Nothing's impossible, when they go into conference and free conference, trying to make that budget work," he said. "There's no great enthusiasm over there for tax reform. If they want additional revenue, this might be the vehicle."

Kentucky Wins has scheduled a rally from noon to 1 p.m. March 13 in the Capitol Rotunda.

Meanwhile, Heleringer said 18 of 19 members of the KEEP board voted Thursday against supporting Stumbo's measure.

"We are getting our message out to all legislators and interested parties," said Heleringer, a former legislator from Jefferson County.

KEEP has no preference on the other two expanded gambling bills filed this year, said Heleringer.

"Our primary concern is to protect the horse industry," he said. "The speaker's bill is the most problematic for us. It could allow for any type of gambling."

All three bills are opposed by The Family Foundation, a conservative group based in Lexington, and the Kentucky Baptist Convention.

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