Northern Ky. lawmaker pre-files bill to allow casinos at racetracks

Rep. Dennis Keene, a Northern Kentucky lawmaker, pre-filed a bill Friday that would allow five racetracks to add casinos or slots if they could get local voter approval.

The bill is similar to legislation that was approved by the House during a special legislative session in 2009 but never came up for a vote in the Senate.

Keene, D-Wilder, said he thinks many senators want to see movement and he's putting this out there as an option.

In his inaugural address Tuesday, Gov. Steve Beshear said he again would push for a constitutional amendment on the 2012 statewide ballot to allow expanded gambling.

"We are developing our plans for the gaming amendment and look forward to working with legislators so the people of Kentucky will finally have the chance to vote on this issue," Beshear said in a statement Friday.

Keene said he already had been considering this bill and had spoken with House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, about it before Beshear's address.

Keene said he wanted to put the bill out as a way to start the discussion.

"We've already passed this out of the House on to go to the Senate and never be heard," Keene said. "If we don't see some kind of movement on the Senate side, there's no sense in voting on this."

Rep. Mike Nemes, R-Louisville, also has pre-filed bills to expand gambling with a constitutional amendment to allow the local-option vote.

Keene's bill would allow casinos or limited expanded gambling such as slots or other electronic games of chance in counties with populations of 90,000 or more that already have a track.

Churchill Downs in Louisville, and Keeneland and The Red Mile in Lexington would qualify. Ellis Park in Henderson, Turfway Park in Florence and Kentucky Downs in Franklin could be eligible under another rule.

The idea is to allow the location most directly affected to vote on approval or denial.

Once approved, licensing and regulatory authority would fall under the Kentucky Lottery Corp.

Tracks would have to pay a $50 million initial licensing fee. Those that choose to offer full casino gambling would pay a $6 million annual renewal fee; those that offer slots would pay a $25,000 annual renewal fee.

The state would tax revenue from gambling proceeds at 31 percent, with that money paying for a $2.5 million annual fund for problem gamblers, childhood education, state pensions and economic development.

The track casinos would have to put an additional 15 percent into the Kentucky Equine Industry Enhancement Fund, overseen by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, for purse supplements, breeders' incentives and backside improvements.

There also would be a fund to promote tourism in regions with casinos, provide public protection and develop infrastructure.

Stumbo, who sponsored the bill approved by the House in 2009, indicated earlier this month that it would be up to the Senate to act first. "However, the majority of the House is on record in working with Governor Beshear to resolve this issue to help stabilize and save our horse industry," Stumbo said. "In that regard, I will keep an open mind."