FRANKFORT — Business, union and education leaders from across the state announced Thursday the formation of an advocacy group to call for putting a constitutional amendment to expand gambling on the November ballot.
The Kentucky Alliance for Jobs, a tax-exempt 501(c)4 that can raise funds and spend on political campaigns and legislation, will be a grass-roots lobbying group, said Dave Adkisson, president and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.
The group has not raised money and does not have a budget, he said.
He said the primary purpose of the coalition, which includes his group as well as key education, labor and equine industry groups, will be calling lawmakers and urging them to vote for Gov. Steve Beshear's constitutional amendment to allow casino gambling, once it is introduced.
"We have a very simple goal — let the people decide," Adkisson said.
Beshear said Thursday that he has not yet decided when a bill will be filed, but it could be as early as next week.
Beshear has said he thinks he has the 23 votes necessary to pass the amendment in the Republican-led Senate. Adkisson said he sees widespread support in the state House as well.
The coalition includes at least 31 organizations, including the chamber, the Kentucky Education Association, labor groups, and multiple horse industry groups. Lexington Mayor Jim Gray also is a supporter.
While some of the member groups listed, such as the chamber, support expanded gambling, others only go so far as to support putting an amendment on the ballot.
Prichard Committee executive director Stu Silberman, also former superintendent of the Fayette County Public Schools, said that the Kentucky Education Action Team, composed of education groups from across the state, has not put the gambling question to a vote.
"At our last meeting, members voted to support putting the issue on the ballot," Silberman said. "Whether they are for it or against it, they believe it's important to get it settled."
Opponents of expanded gambling criticized the coalition.
Lexington attorney and former Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Forgy denounced it in the Capitol Rotunda before the news conference.
"This is unconscionable. We'll impose $800 million worth of gambling losses on people who can't afford a ham sandwich," Forgy said, referencing estimates of the potential gambling revenue that tracks and the chamber have said is possible.
The Family Foundation, a conservative advocacy group, called the announcement "an occupation of the Capitol Rotunda by the 1 percent" who will benefit financially from gambling at racetracks.
Foundation spokesman Martin Cothran pointed to the few lawmakers in attendance at Thursday's rally as proof they are reluctant to take up the issue.
"If that isn't a vote of no confidence, we don't know what is," Cothran said. "We're not entirely clear on what they were there to support. There is no bill."