Kentucky Officials Put Finishing Touches on VLT Bill

Racing industry officials in Kentucky met for a few hours the evening of Feb. 18 to wrap up loose ends on legislation that would authorize video lottery terminals at racetracks in the state. Officials are tentatively scheduled to meet with leaders in the House of Representatives Feb. 20.

Information has circulated as to the language in the bill, though any published numbers have been called into question because the legislation wasn't finalized as of Feb. 19. One of the apparent givens is a plan for the tracks and horsemen to share proceeds from VLTs. Thoroughbred and Standardbred interests are said to be in agreement.

The last day for new bills to be filed in the House is March 4; in the Senate, the deadline is March 6. The racetrack gaming legislation could be introduced as early as this week should the industry resolve any last-minute tit-for-tat issues and the meeting with House leaders proves successful.

Published reports have quoted Senate leaders as saying there is little support for expanded gambling. Some racing officials have said that, with the support of House majority leader Greg Stumbo, a bill stands a very good chance to at least be called to the floor of the House for consideration.

In September 2001, members of the racing and breeding industry appeared before the Interim Joint Committee on Licensing and Occupations at the state capital in Frankfort. They were told by legislators a plan would be considered in 2002 as long as the industry is in total agreement.

"We need to come up with something drastic," Rep. Denver Butler, who chairs the legislative committee, said during that meeting. "I've spoken to enough members of this committee, and they're willing to sit down and work with you."

Some legislators, including House speaker Jody Richards, have said there is little interest in the racetrack plan by the public. In a Feb. 16 article, Richards and Senate president David Williams told the Lexington Herald-Leader they could not vote for racetrack gaming. At the same time, racing officials have said they believe the measure has a chance.

The only vocal opposition has come from Citizens Against Gambling Expansion. Headed by the Rev. Nancy Jo Kemper, executive director of the Kentucky Council of Churches, CAGE has fought previous attempts by the racing industry and others to push for alternative gaming. The organization held a press conference Jan. 8, opening day of the legislative session.

In the same Herald-Leader article, Kemper acknowledged the issue isn't dead "because racetrack officials and lobbyists are roaming the halls of Frankfort like vampires waiting for the moment to suck blood out of their opponents."