FRANKFORT — Opponents prayed Tuesday for the "timely death" of Gov. Steve Beshear's casino gambling amendment, which will get its first legislative hearing Wednesday.
Led by the Rev. Hershael York of Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort, more than 100 people gathered in the Capital Rotunda to sing and pray for the legislation's defeat.
The bill, introduced Feb. 14 by Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, is scheduled to be heard Wednesday in the Senate State and Local Government Committee.
Thayer said Tuesday that he would introduce a new version of the bill for a vote. He declined to discuss the changes.
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Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, who shook hands with people in the crowd in the rotunda, said he had heard no details of the changes.
"I guess they don't want the public to see it before the committee meeting," Williams said later.
The original bill would put a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November to allow casinos at as many as five racetracks and two other locations at least 60 miles from tracks.
The bill has the support of many in the horse industry, but the crowd Tuesday said thousands of people in Kentucky churches oppose it. Late last week, York rallied troops from the Kentucky Baptist Convention, the Kentucky Council of Churches and the Kentucky Catholic Conference to lobby the General Assembly against the bill.
"We fear a great scourge may be unleashed in the commonwealth," York told the crowd, whom he urged to call lawmakers.
"We beg and plead that this plague may not be unleashed in our state," York said. "We want the best of our people, not a cut of their losses."
The Rev. Adam Greenway of Louisville, president of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, said church members would remember at the ballot boxes how lawmakers voted on Beshear's bill.
"We are speaking in one voice to say no to expanded gambling," Greenway said.
The Rev. Paul Chitwood, KBC executive director, said the bill "mocks the poor," and he urged lawmakers to vote their hearts.
"How many children are we willing to lay upon the altar of casino gambling?" Chitwood asked.
Beshear and Agriculture Commissioner Jamie Comer, a Republican, have said they will speak in support of the bill.
Comer's office said he planned to testify if the bill "is in support of the horse industry, which is an important commodity in Kentucky agriculture," said Holly VonLuehrte, his general counsel. "At this point, we plan to be there."
The horse industry also was whipping up support: The Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association urged horsemen to contact Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, before the noon meeting in support of the bill.
"I think there are people on both sides of the expanded gambling issue," said Patrick Neely, spokesman for the Kentucky Equine Education Project, which supports expanded gambling at racetracks. "We certainly respect that there are opponents, but the people here today represent a very small minority who don't want to let Kentuckians decide this issue."