FRANKFORT — The prospects for slots at Kentucky racetracks seem more uncertain than ever as advocates and opponents look toward the General Assembly session that begins next January.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, who persuaded a slim majority in his Democratic-led chamber to approve video lottery terminals at tracks after tying it to about $1.4 billion worth of school building projects, said he would not ask his members to vote on the issue again until the Republican-controlled Senate approves the measure.
Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said the horse industry, which says expanded gambling is needed for Kentucky to compete with the slots-fueled racing purses and breeders incentives of other states, will have to make its case in the Senate.
"We're not going to engage in useless activity here," he said. "We're not going to go through it for no reason."
Senate President David Williams, who opposes expanded gambling, responded: "Good. That means we won't have to address that issue in the next session. The support is not here."
Williams said legislators should focus more on trying to help horse owners, breeders and trainers instead of the tracks who are seeking more profits with slot machines.
Gov. Steve Beshear, who campaigned in 2007 on expanded gambling and placed the issue on the agenda of the special legislative session that ended Wednesday, said he did not know what will happen to the controversial issue in coming months.
"Now that this special session is over, we are going to step back and look at our priorities and where we might go to save this struggling industry," Beshear said. "At this point, I don't know what direction that may take."
The Democratic governor blamed the slots bill's demise on the Senate's Republican leadership and said he had no regrets about how he handled the issue.
"If the bill had reached the floor of the Senate, we had a real opportunity to pass it," he said.
After the House approved the slots bill last Friday on a 52-45 vote, the Senate budget committee rejected it on a 10-5 vote. Williams, R-Burkesville, said the bill followed the standard legislative process, adding that it never had enough votes to pass the full Senate.
Still, Beshear stopped short of saying there should be a change in Senate leadership.
"Elections are always on the horizon, and the leadership of the House and Senate and I have found common ground on a lot of things.
"One of the things we agree on is that ... we usually campaign for candidates in our party, and I'm sure we all will be doing that next year."
However, at a rally of horse industry supporters later Wednesday, Beshear took a different tack. "We've got to do one of two things," he said to several hundred gathered at Keeneland. "We've got to change some of the state senators' minds or we've got to change some of the state senators."
In next year's state legislative races, all 100 House seats and half of the Senate's 38 seats will be up for grabs, including Williams' in south-central Kentucky.
Williams predicted that Democrats will spend a lot of money trying to oust Senate Republicans and slots supporters will form a group to pay for issue-oriented advertisements. But he said there will be no change in party control of the House or Senate in the next 18 months.
Advocates of slots "can spend all the money in the world, but they have the wrong issue," Williams said.
Stumbo, however, said most Kentuckians will side with the House.
"They will smile on what we did," he said, "and they will frown on what they did."