Thayer Prefiles Amendment on Racetrack VLTs

A constitutional amendment on expanded gambling has been prefiled in Kentucky.

Republican Kentucky Sen. Damon Thayer has prefiled legislation calling for a constitutional amendment to authorize racetrack video lottery terminals.

Thayer prefiled the bill Nov. 5. The 2010 General Assembly session begins in early January.

Thayer, who announced his intentions in October, has come under fire from Kentucky’s horse industry for not supporting a vote by the legislature on expanded gambling. Horse industry representatives believe his plan is a political ploy; Thayer said he never has supported anything but a statewide vote of the public on the issue.

Thayer’s bill also would require local-option votes on racetrack VLTs.

“For too long, casino gambling has dominated the debate in Frankfort to the detriment of all other issues,” Thayer said. “(Democratic) Gov. Steve Beshear has advocated very little, if anything, beyond the expansion of gambling. We must move forward so that the governor can focus on working with the General Assembly in a bipartisan manner to address the serious public policy issues facing Kentucky.

“My amendment would let the people decide if they wish to expand gambling or not.”

There hasn’t been any dialogue between Thayer and the horse industry, the senator confirmed Nov. 6. Therefore, his bill contains the same revenue splits he discussed in October. Horse industry officials described the splits as unworkable.

The measure calls for the state to get 50% of gross revenue, racetracks 25%, and horsemen and marketing programs 25%. It states purses and breed development would get $100 million or 25% a year, whichever is higher, as well as half of the up-front license fees under a competitive bidding process.

“A constitutional amendment is the only way to absolutely guarantee that horsemen would keep the portion of slots revenue they are entitled too,” Thayer said in his statement. “It would also contain gambling to counties that already have it, and benefit the state by helping pay for capital projects and reduce our debt service thereby making our bonds more attractive to investors.”

Horse industry officials have said the time for a constitutional amendment has passed, and action is needed now. Beshear and Democratic Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo are expected to again push for racetrack VLTs via statutory approval in 2010, if not sooner.