FRANKFORT — An anti-casino group warned Thursday that any new law allowing video lottery terminals at Kentucky horse tracks would be challenged in court. The move came just a day before Gov. Steve Beshear was expected to announce whether a special legislative session would be called and whether slots would be part of a solution to the state's ailing finances.
"We will take legal action if the governor calls a special session and oversees the passage of gambling expansion via the current unconstitutional slot-at-the-tracks plan," said Kent Ostrander, executive director of the Family Foundation, one of several groups that have long opposed expanded gambling.
On Friday, the Consensus Forecasting Group, a group of independent economists, is scheduled to announce the state's revenue forecast for the next fiscal year. Beshear's budget staff has estimated that the shortfall could be as much as $1 billion. Beshear has said he will decide after the group makes its prediction whether to call a special legislative session.
Beshear has said tax increases were not an option. He declined to say Thursday whether slots at tracks would be considered, even though he has said publicly that something must be done to help the state's race tracks.
Ostrander and others say the constitution would have to be amended to allow for slots at the tracks. A constitutional amendment can be approved only in even-numbered years of the General Assembly. That means a vote could not be taken on the issue before January if a constitutional amendment is needed.
Kentucky has debated allowing slots at race tracks since 1993. At least five attorney general opinions have been issued on whether the Kentucky Constitution allows expanded gambling. All but one of those — a 2005 opinion from then Attorney General Greg Stumbo — said the state's current constitution forbids slots at race tracks.
Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, now the House Speaker, filed a bill during the 2009 legislative session that would allow the state's race tracks to use slot machines. The move could help pump up purses and generate additional tax dollars for the state, advocates of expanded gambling say.
Attorney General Jack Conway has been asked by state Rep. Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, to look at the issue again and advise the General Assembly on whether the machines would be allowed under a provision that created the state lottery.
Ostrander on Thursday released a DVD of the state House debate in 1988 on establishing a statewide lottery.
On it, Rep. Louis Johnson, D-Owensboro, asked about the need for an amendment to make sure that the lottery legislation would not allow slots at the tracks. He was told by Rep. Bill Donnermeyer, D-Bellevue, that the bill would not allow slot machines.
If Stumbo, who was then majority leader, disagreed, he should have spoken up, Ostrander said.
Stumbo declined to comment on the release of the DVD or the Family Foundation's threats to sue the state.
Ostrander said his group would not file any legal action until the governor signs legislation into law.
But a legal challenge might not be the only roadblock to bringing slots to Kentucky's race tracks. Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, has said he doubts expanded gambling would pass the Republican-controlled Senate.