A Kentucky lawmaker said a General Assembly vote on a constitutional amendment on casino gambling hinges on several factors, none of which appear to be in place during the current legislative session.
Republican Damon Thayer, the Senate Majority Floor Leader, said Feb. 17 the issue requires public disclosure well in advance, consensus in the horse industry, and support from Democratic legislative leaders. There is time to advance a bill in 2014, but probably not this year, he said.
"The issue got no legs in this session because of a lack of urgency due to timing," said Thayer, who sponsored a constitutional amendment last year on behalf of Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear. "In order for the issue to have traction, it needs to be offered early before the General Assembly convenes. You don't want to give lawmakers reasons to be non-committal."
Beshear apparently intended to push a bill during the current 30-day legislative session but in January said some racetracks opposed "clean amendment" language that would offer them no guarantees for gaming licenses. Last year's bill, which had racetrack protections, was defeated in the Senate.
Republican Sen. Dan Seum gauged Senate interest in language that wouldn't guarantee tracks casinos but would dedicate 10% of gross gaming revenue to the horse industry. There was more support among Republicans this year, but Seum couldn't get the number necessary for passage.
"This is two years in a row that no one in Gov. Beshear's party was willing to sponsor a bill in the House offering a constitutional amendment," Thayer said. "For two years in a row he had to seek assistance from someone in the Senate Republican majority. I think someone from his party ought to sponsor his bill in the General Assembly."
Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo has often said he believes expanded gambling doesn't require a constitutional amendment. The Senate majority, however, thinks otherwise.
The politics–fear of losing seats and perhaps chamber control in elections–has stymied serious movement on the issue, as has a focus on pressing matters such as pension and tax reform.
When asked if casino gambling could be tied in with one of those issues during a special legislative session in 2013, Thayer said: "That conversation (on funding pension liability) has not occurred in a substantive way. And there is absolutely no consensus on tax reform."
Thayer said he does support the spirit of legislation introduced by Democratic Sens. Johnny Ray Turner and Kathy Stein that calls for legislative approval of historical race wagering, also called Instant Racing, but passage could be difficult because the matter is in the hands of the state Supreme Court.
"While I personally support the bill and have long been a proponent of Instant Racing, it's still a very controversial issue," Thayer said. "There needs to be more education, and there is very little time. More importantly, this issue is being litigated, and the Senate traditionally has been reluctant to step into the fray on an issue being litigated."
Meanwhile, the Kentucky Equine Education Project board of directors voted unanimously Feb. 18 to endorse the historical race wagering bill.
"We appreciate Sen. Turner filing this bill, which provides clarity to pari-mutuel wagering on historic horse races," KEEP chairman Corey Johnsen said in a release. "(The bill) amounts to a technical piece of legislation that upon passage will allow the industry to make significant investments and create new jobs in Kentucky, particularly in the southeastern portion of the state."
Johnsen, president of Kentucky Downs, which has Instant Racing machiens, is referencing a proposal from Keeneland. The Lexington auction and racetrack operator hopes to purchase the Thunder Ridge harness track in partnership with Full House Resorts and move the license to the Corbin area, where a Quarter Horse racetrack and Instant Racing facility would be built.
Feb. 19 is the last day for bills to be introduced in the House. The General Assembly session ends in early March.