FRANKFORT — The state legislative session that ended last week was the first in years in which the subject of whether Kentucky should have expanded gambling didn't come up.
That will not be the case for the 2016 General Assembly that starts in January, according to House Speaker Greg Stumbo.
"I'm going to move on my casino bill and ask for hearings on it during the interim. It's part of my personal agenda," Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said after the 2015 session ended.
State lawmakers have debated whether to expand gambling in Kentucky for decades. Gov. Steve Beshear made it a key part of his 2007 and 2011 campaign platforms, but he didn't mention it when presenting his wish list for this year, his last in office, during his State of the Commonwealth Address in January.
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Past efforts to expand gambling have failed because of horse industry infighting, disappointing returns in some states that have expanded gambling, and reluctance by some lawmakers who worry about the effect of expanded gambling on families.
In particular, the Republican-led Senate has not been enthusiastic about it. In the House, Democrats hold the majority, but Republicans hope to change that in next year's elections.
Stumbo filed a casino gambling bill during this year's session but never called for it to be heard in committee.
He said 2016 should be a more opportune time because a new governor will face a financially strapped state treasury in preparing a two-year budget. Kentuckians elect a new governor in November; Beshear cannot run again because of term limits.
If Stumbo presses with expanded gambling legislation next year, he again will encounter strong opposition, Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst for The Family Foundation, a conservative group based in Lexington, said Sunday.
"We've been hearing for several years this issue is dead," said Cothran. "If Stumbo can perform and resurrect it, he's a much better politician than I thought."
Cothran added that any argument for expanded gambling based on the statement that state government needs more money "simply won't fly."
Stumbo's expanded gambling bill this year was a constitutional amendment that would let the Kentucky Lottery Corp. oversee the casinos.
"The lottery has a good track record and has no scandals, and I will continue pushing it to run expanded gambling," Stumbo said.
Under his current plan, each of Kentucky's six congressional districts would have a casino. Locations would be limited to counties of at least 85,000 residents, subject to local approval by voters.
Twenty percent of the proceeds from expanded gambling would be used to increase racing purses at the tracks for the horse industry, said Stumbo.
Fifty percent would go to elementary and secondary education and 30 percent to higher education.