Horse industry at the center of gambling bill with 5 casino licenses and a claim on revenue

02/15/2012 07:06 AM

The proposed constitutional amendment to allow casino gambling in Kentucky has three sentences. And the horse racing industry gets a shout-out in each of the three.

And that has some opponents arguing that it is “an abuse of the constitution” to specifically promise benefits to a private industry.

That 131-word amendment that Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear and Republican state Sen. Damon Thayer introduced yesterday would guarantee up five casino licenses for race tracks. Another two could be freestanding but can’t be within 60 miles of track, which would eliminate riverfront areas in Northern Kentucky, such as Covington and Newport (because of Turfway Park in Florence), as well as Central Kentucky cities along I-75 such as Georgetown and Richmond (because of Keeneland in Lexington).

Beshear said that language made economic sense for two reasons:

In addition, the horse racing industry is one of eight areas specifically tagged in the last provision of the proposed measure to get a piece of the revenue from casinos.

Other areas include education, human services, health care and veterans programs.

It is the only private industry to get a mention, although the broad area of “job creation” is included in that same sentence and could indirectly mean money for private companies through tax credits.

Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst for the Family Foundation, called the amendment an attempt by “wealthy horse track owners to buy their way into the constitution.”

But the horse industry has wide bipartisan support in Frankfort.

At the Tuesday’s news conference, Republican Commissioner of Agriculture James Comer emphatically backed the constitutional amendment. While he was a state representative, Comer voted against a bill in 2009 that would have allowed video slot terminals at the racetracks. But he said he prefers constitutional amendment approach, which requires approval of three-fifths of each chamber of the General Assembly and ratification by Kentucky voters.

“The industry deserves a vote on this, and I’m going to do anything I can to support this issue,” Comer said.

- Video produced by Don Weber, written by Ryan Alessi


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