Former Democratic Gov. Brereton Jones, a Thoroughbred breeder who has lobbied for expanded gambling for a decade, said Friday that he cannot support Gov. Steve Beshear's casino amendment, which he said could be disastrous for the state and for the horse industry.
Although he has previously proposed a constitutional amendment, Jones has said that he cannot support gambling legislation that does not designate where the money would go.
"I have not changed," Jones told the Herald-Leader on Friday. "I'm not opposing casinos but what I am saying is we need to let the people decide. We should let people vote on where the casinos go and where the money goes and we're not letting them do that in this bill. This says let the legislature makes all the decisions."
In 2004, Jones co-founded the Kentucky Equine Education Project to lobby for expanded gambling. KEEP this week expressed support of Beshear's bill, filed by Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown.
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Thayer declined to comment on Jones' remarks, saying he is working on changes, with Beshear taking the lead.
Beshear's office said the governor had no comment late Friday.
"Over 64 percent of Kentuckians are in favor of expanded gaming at racetracks, and as the bill undergoes changes, we will continue to rely on Senator Thayer, Governor Beshear and our legislative leaders to craft a constitutional amendment that supports Kentucky's signature horse industry," said KEEP spokesman Patrick Neely in a statement.
The one-paragraph constitutional amendment Thayer filed on Tuesday allows up to seven casinos — five at racetracks and two others. The bill has few specifics but would allow the General Assembly to work out regulatory details if the amendment passed a November vote.
"I don't think the public is in the mood to hand this over to the legislature any more than they want to turn things over to Congress," Jones said.
Jones, who co-owns Airdrie Stud in Midway with his wife, Libby, retired as chairman of KEEP last March.
He has financially supported Beshear and efforts to allow racetracks to add casino gambling to compete with slots-fueled purses in other states.
But Jones said the amendment offered none of the protection the horse industry needs.
"We could end up with two mega-casinos and one casino at a lesser track," Jones said. He also supports allowing local communities a say. "I know for sure most Kentuckians do not want to live in some kind of gambling mecca. It could be a disaster."
Jones said changes are needed to designate what casino revenue would be spent on so people know what they are voting on.
"I respect that they're trying to help but I think we've got to make certain we allow the people to make the decisions," Jones said.
Martin Cothran, spokesman for The Family Foundation, said Jones' comments are a sign of misgivings in the horse-breeding industry.
"We just wonder how long it's going to be before the governor is the last remaining supporter of the bill," Cothran said. "This is just a measure of how we imagine a lot of horse people must feel. If you had a canary in the coal mine on this issue, it would be Brereton Jones. This has got to be a huge blow for the prospects of the bill, which at this point have got to be dim."
One of the bill's co-sponsors, Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, also said Friday afternoon that he has trouble backing a bill without a local-option.
Buford said the bill right now does not have the votes to pass the Republican-led Senate. The bill originally had three Republican sponsors and eight Democrats.
"The current language is flawed. They've got to come up with a new bill. Will everybody stick? I don't know," Buford said.