Casino bill passes committee 7-4, goes to Senate floor for 1st time

02/22/2012 01:42 PM

(UPDATED WITH VIDEO) A proposed constitutional amendment to allow casino gambling will make it to the Senate floor for the first time after the senate state government committee approved it 7 to 4 on Wednesday.

The proposed constitutional amendment to allow expanded gambling in Kentucky now calls for seven casino licenses open to any entity but leaves in place the buffer barring free-standing casinos from being 60 miles from a horse racetrack.

Voting for it: Republican Sens: Jimmy Higdon, John Schickel, Damon Thayer
Democratic Sens. Walter Blevins, Gearld Neal, R.J. Palmer, Johnny Ray Turner
(However, Turner said he would reserve the right to vote against it on the floor.)

Voting against it: Republican Sens. Tom Jensen, Alice Forgey Kerr, Dan Seum, and Robert Stivers.
Democratic Sens. (none)

The bill already has had its first reading on the Senate floor so it could face a vote by the full senate as early as Thursday.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Damon Thayer, said after the vote he didn’t know if the measure had the necessary 23 votes to pass but that Gov. Steve Beshear would be lobbying senators.

Beshear testified on behalf of the measure. And he fielded several questions from Republican senators about the 60-mile buffer provision, as Pure Politics previously reported.

Beshear’s overarching argument and that of other supporters was to allow voters to decide the issue and put it to rest once and for all.

“We’ve hemmed and we’ve hawed while states around us moved forward,” Beshear said.

Beshear, during his testimony, also repeated the case he has made in speeches and public rallies earlier this year: that Kentuckians have spent $451 million at casinos in other states and that Kentucky’s horse industry is “under attack” and needs a boost casino gambling can give it.

Besides the governor, Republican Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, Chamber of Commerce President Dave Adkisson and horse owners.

Members of the Kentucky Family Foundation, including Stan Cave, a former Republican lawmaker and one-time chief of staff to Gov. Ernie Fletcher.

Cave said “the process has been perverted” by hammering out the latest draft of the bill in secrecy over recent days only to be unveiled at the start of the committee meeting at noon Wednesday.

Rev. Hershael York of the Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort recounted how a parishioner of his was convicted for embezzling $100,000 in order to feed a gambling habit.

At one point, Democratic Sen. R.J. Palmer of Winchester got into an exchange with Cave and York about whether the Kentucky constitution calls for lawmakers to “agree” with a proposed constitutional amendment if they vote for it, as opposed to just voting for it to put it on the ballot for general election voters to ratify.

The meeting also brought lobbyists, horse track officials, other legislators such as Republican Rep. Lonnie Napier of Lancaster to watch the proceedings.

The crowd included casino supporters wearing colorful shirts with names on the front of surrounding states that have casinos, such as Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, West Virginia and Illinois. On the backs, they read: “Getting lucky because of Kentucky.”

The audience remained mostly quiet until Kerr said during one of her questions that Beshear had said he would have a bus taking college students to the casino. In fact, the governor, during an exchange with Kerr, noted that Lexington has a bus line going to Keeneland in Lexington.

A bloc of senators are prepared to vote against casino gambling in any form. That includes Sen. Tom Jensen, a Republican from London.

- Video produced by Don Weber

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