Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear

Anne M. Eberhardt

KY Governor Says Expanded Gambling a Priority

The issue figured prominently in Steve Beshear's Jan. 4 address to the legislature.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, in his state of the Commonwealth address Jan. 4, said a constitutional amendment on expanded gambling is a major priority for the 2012 General Assembly session.

Beshear, who won re-election to a four-year term in November, reiterated his position that it’s well past time for the citizens of Kentucky to vote on the issue of expanded gambling. He didn’t offer specifics but said “there will be a bill” introduced in the Senate during the session that began Jan. 3.

“The people in this state want us to act,” Beshear said. “It’s time for us to listen to the people.”

Polls repeatedly have indicated a desire by voters to at least vote on the issue, which has lingered for almost 20 years. Recent polls suggest a constitutional amendment on expanded gambling—with emphasis on bolstering the horse racing and breeding industry—would pass.

Beshear, a Democrat, mentioned the horse industry and its plight twice during his address. Kentucky is battling states that supplement purses and breed development funds with casino revenue.

Beshear said the next two-year state budget won’t rely on new revenue; cuts of at least 7%-9% are possible. But he said action taken in 2012 will avoid future cuts.

“What are we willing to do to build a stronger Kentucky?” the governor said.

After the address Republican Sen. President David Williams, an opponent of expanded gambling, said Beshear’s call for a constitutional amendment received a “tepid response” from General Assembly members. He also said Beshear offered no specifics on the language of the amendment, and until the bill is revealed, there is no way to gauge support.

Beshear has been working with members of the House and Senate on language for a gambling amendment. Details haven’t been released, but Beshear and others have said the language will be “simple,” with details to come in enabling legislation.