The Kentucky House of Representatives June 19 approved legislation to authorize video lottery terminals at the state’s racetracks. The bill now heads to a Senate committee, where its fate is uncertain.
The measure passed on a 52-45 vote, with two abstentions, after almost four hours of commentary from legislators. The vote tally was within range of what racing industry officials had predicted.
“We are extremely grateful the House passed this legislation,” Patrick Neely, executive director of the Kentucky Equine Education Project, said after the vote at the state Capitol. “It was a good debate, and a thorough debate. We look forward to it going through a debate in the Senate.
“The horse industry applauds Gov. (Steve) Beshear and Speaker of the House (Greg) Stumbo in getting this bill to a vote for the first time, and getting it passed.”
The gaming-at-tracks issue has lingered in Kentucky for about 15 years. No measure had been voted on by the full House until June 19.
The legislation, which calls for VLTs at licensed racetracks, is designed to provide revenue for the horse industry as well as education. The education provisions—building new schools and supplementing existing programs—are to be tied to the budget bill a House committee was expected to take up later in the day June 19.
“Obviously, I’m very pleased,” KEEP chairman and Thoroughbred farm owner Brereton Jones said. “It’s important for everyone to vote according to their own conscience. I think people are beginning to realize the future of the industry is at stake, and the time has come to save the industry.”
Turfway Park president Bob Elliston said even though the legislative process is nowhere near finished, a major hurdle was cleared.
“I feel like I’ve been in labor for 10 years,” Elliston said. “This bill is not passed yet; we’re only halfway home. But even the Senate is having dialogue about helping the horse industry, so I feel good that the General Assembly understands (what’s happening in the horse industry).”
The industry has argued competition from racetracks bolstered by gaming revenue has put Kentucky at a major disadvantage.
Republican Senate president David Williams, an expanded gambling opponent, had floated his own proposal to raise money for purses and breed development by taxing lottery tickets. Beshear, a Democrat, didn’t put that plan on his call for the special session, but the Senate has considered attaching it to other legislation.
Williams, who warned of potential hanky-panky in the House concerning the gaming bill, went on the defense June 18 after the racetrack VLT bill passed the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee. He told the state’s major newspapers the Senate could adjourn before taking action on various measures, and also proclaimed the VLT bill dead—before the House had a chance to vote on it.
Stumbo, a Democrat who sponsored the VLT legislation, didn’t appreciate the comments. During a speech on the House floor, he said the General Assembly is an independent body that no longer relies on the governor for direction after a 1980 vote that altered the structure.
“Just as no governor will (have) authority over this chamber, neither will any senator,” Stumbo said before the House vote. “We will do in this chamber as this chamber directs. I don’t want you to be intimidated or coerced (by the comments).”
The House action places the racetrack gaming issue squarely on the lap of the Senate, which, under Williams’ leadership, has contended the measure has no support. Some senators and racing industry officials believe that’s not necessarily the case, and the only way to find out is through a vote.
Numerous House members offered their views on the legislation during the about four-hour session.
Republican Rep. Stan Lee of Lexington has long opposed expanded gambling and cast a “no” vote June 19.
“I think it’s a bad idea,” Lee said. “This issue comes down to three things: money, money, and money. It’s not about horse racing, education, or school funding. I think if horse racing gets slots, it will be like the dog that caught the car.”
Democratic Rep. Tom Burch of Louisville disagreed. “We should have passed this 20 years ago,” he said.
Here are the results of the roll call vote:
Royce Adams, Rocky Adkins, John Arnold, Linda Belcher, Scott Brinkman, Thomas Burch, Larry Clark, Leslie Combs, Will Coursey, Jesse Crenshaw, Mike Denham, Bob DeWeese, Teddy Edmonds, Tim Firkins, Kelly Flood, David Floyd, Jim Glenn, Jim Gooch Jr., Derrick Graham, Jeff Greer, Dennis Horlander, Joni Jenkins, Dennis Keene, Adam Koenig, Mary Lou Marzian, Thomas McKee, Reginald Meeks, Charles Miller, Harry Moberly Jr., Lonnie Napier, Fred Nesler, David Osborne, Sanny Overly, Darryl Owens, Ruth Ann Palumbo, Don Pasley, Rick Rand, Steven Riggs, Carl Rollins, Sal Santoro, Dottie Sims, John Will Stacy, Kent Stevens, Greg Stumbo, Tommy Thompson, John Tilley, David Watkins, Robin Webb, Alicia Webb-Edgington, Ron Weston, Susan Westrom and Brent Yonts.
Eddie Ballard, Johnny Bell, Kevin Bratcher, Dwight Butler, John Carney, Mike Cherry, Hubert Collins, James Comer, Tim Couch, Ron Crimm, Jim DeCesare, Myron Dossett, C.B. Embry Jr., Bill Farmer, Joseph Fischer, Danny Ford, W. Keith Hall, Richard Henderson, Melvin Henley, Jimmy Higdon, Charlie Hoffman, Jeff Hoover, Brent Housman, Thomas Kerr, Martha Jane King, Jimmie Lee, Stan Lee, Brad Montell, Tim Moore, Rick Nelson, Tanya Pullin, Marie Rader, Jody Richards, Tom Riner, Charles Siler, Arnold Simpson, Kevin Sinnette, Ancel Smith, Fitz Steele, Jim Stewart, Wilson Stone, Tommy Turner, Ken Upchurch and Addia Kathryn Wuchner.
Jim Wayne and Bob Damron.