FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear said his gambling bill is ready but won't be introduced until redistricting is settled, which could be as early as next week but might not happen for months.
"The gambling bill is ready to be introduced, and it is just a matter of when folks feel comfortable with going ahead and introducing it and starting to move it," Beshear said Thursday.
The governor originally said a potential constitutional amendment to allow casino gambling would be introduced in the first days of the legislative session in January, but it has been delayed continually, first by a bitter battle over redrawing legislative districts and now by a lawsuit over the new districts.
Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd is scheduled to hear evidence Monday from House Republicans who contend the new boundaries are unconstitutional. State Sen. Kathy Stein, a Democrat who had been Lexington's senator until the new plan moved her seat to northeastern Kentucky, has joined the suit. Shepherd postponed the filing deadline for potential candidates until Tuesday.
In the meantime, Beshear said, his gambling bill is on hold.
"This whole place is mired down in redistricting right now," Beshear said. "We're going to have to wait and see what happens Monday or Tuesday with the court situation to be able to plan a future strategy. A lot of senators are worried about filing deadlines. ... We're going to be flexible."
But he denied that momentum has been lost, as gambling opponents have said repeatedly.
"The interest is very much there to pass this legislation and put it on the ballot. We've got a lot of time left in the session," he said. "The drop-dead date is to pass it before the last day of the session," which ends in April.
Senate Minority Leader R.J. Palmer, D-Winchester, said Wednesday that a gambling amendment could be introduced even if Shepherd throws out the redistricting plan and lawmakers have to start over.
Beshear said earlier this week that he sees the necessary 23 votes to get an amendment out of the Senate. The likely chief sponsor of the legislation, Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, also said Wednesday that the vote looks close.
Thayer confirmed that the bill was ready but would not discuss specifics.
"It's the governor's place to announce what the details are," Thayer said.
Beshear said Thursday that the bill would be introduced "at a time when our supporters and I can agree that it's time to hit the ground running."
He would not discuss any details of the bill. He has said that any move to allow casino gambling should include Kentucky's racetracks, but some lawmakers argue that it would create a lucrative monopoly for one industry.