Beshear Unveils Long-Awaited Gambling Amendment Proposal

Feb 14, 2012

Gov. Steve Beshear presented a plan Tuesday to amend Kentucky's Constitution to allow up to seven casinos to open in the state, most of them at horse tracks.

Similar proposals to expand gambling opportunities in the state have been debated for years, but have never been able to get through the House and Senate.

"We believe that we have fashioned something that could and should and hopefully will pass both chambers," the Democratic governor said Tuesday.

Republican Sen. Damon Thayer of Georgetown will sponsor legislation that would begin the process of amending the Constitution. If approved by lawmakers, the proposal would be placed on the ballot in November to be ratified or rejected by voters.

"The issue of expanded gambling, after nearly two decades of debate, has reached a tipping point," Beshear said. "Recently, the people of this state were polled by two separate organizations, including the state Republican Party. Both surveys found that more than 80 percent of the people of this state, regardless of whether they support expanded gambling or are against it, want the right to vote on it. The question is simple: Do we as leaders listen to our people or do we ignore them?"

Despite a long history of wagering on horse races, Kentucky's constitution frowns on casino-style gambling. And, in the Bible-belt state, many lawmakers have been reluctant to vote to change it, knowing they may face un-approving constituents in upcoming legislative elections.

To get through the General Assembly, the proposal has to be approved by a supermajority of lawmakers. That means 23 of the state's 38 senators and 60 of the 100 representatives must vote in favor.

Beshear said Kentuckians now are wagering hundreds of millions of dollars in casinos in neighboring states.

"That money is being used to pay for all kinds of services and public infrastructure in those other states," Beshear said. "As it stands, we might as well be backing trucks up to the Ohio River and dumping our people's money into the water. We need to keep that money at home."

That money, he said, could bolster key government services and to support the horse industry.

"As we all know, Kentucky's horse industry, one of our signature industries, is under attack by other states," he said. "Other states are using gaming revenue to boost purses and breeders' incentives to lure race horses, brood mares and stallions away from the Bluegrass state."

Thayer said he believes Kentuckians should have the right to decide the gambling issue this November in an election that will draw a large turnout because the presidential race also will be on the ballot.

"The time is right to put this issue on the ballot this November, and let the people vote," he said.