60-mile buffer for tracks in casino bill could be sticking point for some senators

02/22/2012 11:46 AM

(UPDATED WITH MORE DEBATE) — Gov. Steve Beshear and Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, revised one portion of the constitutional amendment to allow casino gambling to allow up to seven casino licenses without limiting any to horse race tracks.

The first draft called for up to five licenses for tracks and two other free-standing casinos.

But the latest version of the measure, which is being debated in the Senate state government committee Wednesday afternoon, keeps in place a buffer so that no casino can be built within 60-miles of a track. And that was the subject of much of the early discussion from Republican senators who seemed skeptical of that provision.

Sen. Dan Seum, a Louisville Republican, has voiced support for the concept of a constitutional amendment before. But he has expressed reservations about the current proposal.

“I’ve got a group of people in downtown Louisville who would very much like to have a casino in downtown Louisville right by our new arena,” Seum said.

Beshear said they would have to “get with Churchill Downs” under the language of the proposed constitutional amendment.

Three other Republicans, Sen. Robert Stivers, Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr and Sen. John Schickel of Union, asked Beshear why the 60-mile buffer was necessary. Schickel is among the Republican senators casino supporters are hoping to convince to support the bill both in committee and on the Senate floor if the measure gets that far.

Stivers said he was concerned it gives preferential treatment to private entities, in this case the race tracks.

“If we allow a free-standing casino to go into one of our communities that has a race track that’s not connected, you can say goodbye to your racetrack,” Beshear said.

Beshear said it wouldn’t take any rights away from anyone because casinos aren’t allowed now. He said Ohio’s constitutional amendment to allow casino specifically named four cities in which casinos could be built.

Stivers also asked Beshear whether the language of the constitutional amendment – if approved by voters – requires, rather than allows, the General Assembly to create the framework for casino gambling.

“With this language if the people of this state vote in favor … the General Assembly is going to have to step up and do it. It won’t be discretionary,” Beshear responded. “That makes sense to me.”

In response to a question from Republican Sen. Tom Jensen of London, Beshear said the 60-mile buffer would apply to all tracks whether or not they have casinos.

Currently, Kentucky has eight horse race tracks across the state.

“The 60-mile radius eliminates most of the state,” Beshear said. One area “there would be a possibility of a free-standing casino” would be in southern Kentucky near I-75, the governor added.

Beshear also told Kerr that casinos wouldn’t take away from racing. Instead, he said, they would add to the purses for the races to compete with those in states that allow casinos.

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