Casino bill stalls in Ky. House

The bill for a constitutional amendment allowing for 12 casinos in Kentucky, including one shared between Keeneland and Red Mile racetracks in Lexington, failed in a House committee yesterday.

With the 2008 legislative session already almost halfway over, the bill will be on a tight timetable to make it through the Elections, Constitutional Amendments, and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee and then both the House and Senate, said Rep. Kathy Stein, a committee member.

“It’s going to be rough sledding,” said Stein, D-Lexington.

Three representatives in the committee voted to pass House Bill 550, proposed two weeks ago by Gov. Steve Beshear. Five voted against the amendment, and three abstained.

The bill could still pass if one of the legislators who abstained or voted against the amendment went to the committee and successfully petitioned for another vote to be taken.

Another try at the committee is a strong possibility, said Stein, who said she abstained because she does not think the state constitution should include the bill’s requirement that five of the casinos be for horse-racing tracks. She did vote for an alternative version of the bill before the committee yesterday, which allowed up to nine casinos in Kentucky, no more than five of which would be at horse tracks. That bill failed in a 5-6 vote.

“I’ve always been opposed to expanded gaming,” Stein said. “… But we’ve got to have added revenue.”

The governor’s proposal calls for 50 percent of casino revenue, which he estimates will be about $500 million between July 2008 and June 2009, to go to education at all levels, from early childhood to postsecondary.

Rep. Bill Farmer, R-Lexington, said he will not be sure if he is in support of expanded gaming until he sees what the bill looks like when it reaches the House floor. He also said it is hard to say right now whether the bill will have trouble becoming law.

“I don’t know. I’ve seen bills come back from the dead. I’ve heard there’s no hope in the Senate,” Farmer said. “It all depends on the leadership by the governor.”

In a statement released yesterday, Beshear said leadership in the House was committed to working together to pass a constitutional amendment, but yesterday’s vote shows that “House leadership remains deeply divided.”

During a meeting Monday night, the governor urged House leaders to make sure the bill passed, said Beshear spokesman Dick Brown. Now “the onus is on them” to make sure the gaming bill makes it through committee and to a vote on the House floor, Brown said.

“He called them out publicly and said get your act together,” Brown said. “So now we just wait and see.”

UK will not comment specifically on what the passage or failure of the gaming bill would mean for university funding, said UK spokesman Jay Blanton.

“We don’t think it would be responsible or prudent of us to comment on specific revenue sources or bills in the legislature to determine revenue,” Blanton said.