Kentucky Casino Measure Appears in Jeopardy

Disagreement between the horse racing industry and a legislator has put casino legislation in Kentucky in a tenuous position for the current session.

Rep. Larry Clark, a Louisville Democrat who sponsored the bill, said March 8 the measure was just about dead after a meeting with racing industry representatives failed to produce consensus. He said there remains an outside shot it could be addressed March 10 during a meeting of the House Licensing and Occupations Committee--but only if the industry is on board.

"It has got six pallbearers, and it's in the casket," Clark told the Louisville Courier-Journal.

The bill calls for nine casinos, five at racetracks and four at other locations. The measure apparently came about after the racing and breeding industry, called Kentucky's "signature" industry, failed to muster support for legislation to authorize casinos only at eight tracks. In 2002 and 2003, the industry couldn't win support for electronic gaming devices at tracks.

The latest roadbloacks reportedly are Clark's insistence Churchill Downs build its casino in downtown Louisville; the racing industry's opposition to language that calls for local votes on casinos; and the racing industry's desire to have the constitutional amendment spell out where the casinos would be located.

The bill calls for a statewide vote to authorize casino gambling.

Churchill president Steve Sexton told the newspaper the track would prefer to open a casino on site, but would agree to a downtown facility if it could find attractive real estate. He held out hope an agreement could be reached.

Turfway Park president Bob Elliston said the public should know exactly where the casinos will be, and how many there will be, when they vote on the measure. The racing industry wanted other language in the constitutional amendment, but Clark called that "bad public policy."

Under the bill, the five tracks in line for casinos are Churchill; Kentucky Downs on the Tennessee border; Keeneland and The Red Mile, which would operate one casino in Lexington; Thunder Ridge Raceway in Appalachia; and Turfway in the northern part of the state.

Two of the four non-track casinos would be located near the border of Tennessee, where the only legal gambling is the new state lottery. One would be located in Owensboro, an Ohio River city not far from Ellis Park in western Kentucky, and another at a location to be named later.

Of the two non-track casinos to be located near the Tennessee border, Hopkinsville, a city in southwestern Kentucky, meets the criteria for one license, and the area near Williamsburg, located in the southeastern part of the state, fits the criteria for the other license, though specific locations aren't named in the bill.

Williamsburg is in the district of Republican Senate President David Williams, who repeatedly has said expanded gambling would be dead on arrival in the legislature. Also, in 2002, the Kentucky Racing Commission denied Southern Bluegrass Racing--headed by David Holloway and Tim McCall--a license to operate a Quarter Horse track in Williamsburg.

The racing commission was abolished by Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher in early January. Fletcher has said he opposes expanded gambling but wouldn't stand in the way of a public vote should the measure pass the legislature.

The non-track casinos would contribute 10% of gross revenue to the racing industry. Under that scheme, revenue to horse racing would remain at the levels projected in racetrack-only legislation.

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