Thayer, Beshear Meet to Discuss Gaming Vote

The Republican Kentucky senator said there is a pledge for a good-faith effort.

Bipartisan efforts to get a constitutional amendment on casino gambling on the 2012 ballot in Kentucky continued Dec. 29 when Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear met with Republican Sen. Damon Thayer, chairman of the committee that most likely would hear the bill.

Thayer said he met with Beshear at the governor’s request to discuss several issues for the 2012 General Assembly session, but expanded gambling got the most attention. Thayer said he had a “very frank and open discussion” with Beshear, who won re-election in November and said he would push for a statewide vote on expanded gambling with an emphasis on assisting the horse racing and breeding industry.

“It’s going to be a challenge but we pledged to work together in a good-faith effort to come up with ballot language that can pass the House of Representatives and Senate,” said Thayer, who chairs the Senate State and Local Government Committee. “The governor has met one on one with other legislators such as Senate President (David) Williams but wants me to play a major role (on this issue).

“It’s not going to be easy, but we agree this is the time to really try to do this. I would encourage proponents of the issue to be patient—this is a 60-day session. If we want to get it done we have to be prudent and bring multiple members of the legislature to the table.”

Casino-style gambling has been an issue in Kentucky since the early 1990s but never had enough support to pass both houses. Complicating the issue was uncertainty over the approach: a constitutional amendment or approval by statute.

It appears, based on public comments from racing industry officials, that most if not all parties are comfortable with the constitutional amendment approach. Beshear has said it’s the best way to get the issue through the legislature.

A racing industry-commissioned survey prompted response from Beshear, who reaffirmed his commitment to the issue Dec. 27.

With issues such as legislative redistricting and the state budget on the agenda, gambling probably won’t be addressed in the first week of the session that begins Jan. 3.

Thayer said that after speaking to Beshear, there is no timeline for introduction of a bill. It also remains to be seen whether the measure will be introduced in the House or Senate, and whether the proposed expansion would be mostly at racetracks.

“We’re not quite there on the details, but it’s a really good first step,” Thayer said. “We just talked about the various options. I emphasized that my concerns are for purses and the two breeding incentive programs. We’re still working on the details.”

A constitutional question would be separate from a much larger bill that would spell out details such as revenue percentages, regulation, and casino locations.