Politics & Government

Damon Thayer says he probably will sponsor Beshear's gambling amendment in Senate

Damon Thayer
Damon Thayer

FRANKFORT — Senate State and Local Government chairman Damon Thayer of Georgetown said Wednesday he was "strongly leaning" toward sponsoring Gov. Steve Beshear's constitutional amendment to expand gambling.

Thayer is a Republican, and the governor is a Democrat.

Thayer said the amendment would mention casinos at racetracks and other locations, but he declined to say how many.

The amendment also would be brief and outline in a "general way" where proceeds would go from expanded gambling, the lawmaker said.

Beshear, who has tried since taking office in December 2007 to expand gambling in Kentucky, is expected to unveil his constitutional amendment in a few days for lawmakers to consider.

"Sen. Thayer and I have agreed on language for the bill, which will be introduced in the Senate very soon," Beshear said in a statement.

"We will spend the next few days laying the groundwork for its introduction. We are hopeful that our senators will give this bill the full consideration it deserves, since repeated polls show that Kentuckians are demanding an opportunity to vote on this issue."

Beshear always has blamed the Republican-controlled Senate for blocking expanded gambling.

At his inauguration last month, Beshear said an amendment needed to start in the Senate because the House, led by Democrats, already has gone on record in support of expanded gambling.

If the legislature approves Beshear's plan for a constitutional amendment, Kentucky voters would decide the issue at the polls in November.

Senate President David Williams, a Burkesville Republican who failed to oust Beshear in last year's race for governor, has said Beshear should "completely vet" any proposed amendment with the public before presenting it to the legislature.

Williams, who opposes expanded gambling, said during the campaign that he thought there were votes in the Senate to approve expanded gambling.

Thayer said Williams "has said publicly and told me privately that he will not stand in the way of a constitutional amendment coming to a vote in the Senate. I have no reason not to take him at his word."

Some Democrats have expressed concern that placing a gambling amendment on the ballot this fall could attract conservatives to the polls and hurt Democratic candidates. All 100 House seats and half of the Senate's 38 seats are up for grabs this year.

Thayer said that he was not counting votes in the Senate on expanded gambling and that he had asked the governor to "line up the votes."

The issue has been around since 1994, Thayer said.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Family Foundation predicted Wednesday that if Beshear did not release his expanded gambling proposal by the end of the week, the issue would effectively be dead this session.

"By the time the governor and his friends in the gambling industry finish divvying up all the millions of dollars they think they're going to pocket through this legislation and come out of their smoke-filled room over in the Capitol building, this whole thing will be over," said Martin Cothran, spokesman for the group. "In fact, the gambling bill may already be dead.

"Support for the gambling legislation is collapsing faster than a $10 tent in a hurricane."

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