Beshear and Rep. Bell say their vote counts have casino bill 'close' but Keeneland is balking

03/13/2014 04:10 PM

Short on time this session and feeling short on state money, Gov. Steve Beshear has been making another round of calls to lobby House Democrats to get behind a constitutional amendment to allow casinos.

Beshear said Thursday — the 45th day of the 60-day session — that he’s giving it a few more days to whip up enough support for a measure. He said he wants to deal with the issue.

He and Rep. Johnny Bell, D-Glasgow, have both been taking vote counts on bills, as has House Democratic whip Tommy Thompson, D-Philpot. All three indicated that the concept that would garner the most support would be a so-called “simple” constitutional amendment that would just give voters the chance to vote yes or no on whether the General Assembly could approve casinos.

But officials at the Keeneland Racecourse have been urging central Kentucky lawmakers to only support a constitutional amendment that has a provision that requires some of the proceeds from casinos to go to the horse industry. Republican Sen. Dan Seum, R-Louisville, has a bill in his chamber for a constitutional amendment that divert money to the Equine Excellence Fund.

But Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, said that bill has about 15 votes secured — far short of 23 needed to pass that chamber.

That has Beshear focused on the Democratic-controlled House.


Beshear said the mixed messages from the racing industry is not new.

“We’ve got the usual situation where everybody in the industry cant agree with each other much less with anybody else,” Beshear said. “They’re all fighting and scratching with each other and that’s prohibiting all of us from finally making something happen.”

Vince Gabbert, Keeneland’s vice president chief operating officer, said in a phone interview that track officials want to ensure that the horse industry is guaranteed a cut of the money because other states that have approved casinos have gone back on their promises to the equine industry.

“We feel that no amendment is better than a bad amendment,” Gabbert said.

Gabbert said the track is pushing for something like Seum’s measure even though other racetracks, like Churchill Downs, would rather see any casino amendment pass.

“Keeneland may be a little bit more risk averse than most. That’s OK,” Gabbert said. “We’ll stay engaged in the conversations. But we’ve got an entire industry to think about and work with.”

Beshear said his response to Keeneland would be a request to get together and agree on something so that they can make it work and move forward.

Rep. Johnny Bell, D-Glasgow, said from his vote count on a “simple” amendment, he got about 45 House Democrats and between 16 and 20 Republicans — potentially enough to clear the 60-vote threshold for a constitutional amendment.


And it was clear last week that members of House leadership had not given up on the issue either. Here’s what two House leaders, Thompson and House Democratic Caucus Chairman Sannie Overly of Paris, said about it:



Subscribe to email updates.

Subscribe and get the latest political intelligence delivered to your inbox.