KY Gambling Referendum Bill Dies in Senate

Legislation calling for a constitutional amendment on any expansion of gambling in Kentucky failed to garner the required number of votes for passage in the state Senate Jan. 21.

The measure, sponsored by Republican Senate President David Williams, failed on a party-line vote. It was approved by 20 Republicans and one Independent that caucuses with the GOP, but opposed by 16 Democrats. One other Democrat was absent.

The measure required 23 affirmative votes.

The bill passed the Senate Committee on State and Local Government Jan. 20 on a 7-5 party-line vote.

Williams opposes expansion of gambling in Kentucky, though he said his bill would “let the people decide if they want a voice in the expansion of gambling in Kentucky.”

Only one senator offered comment on her vote. Democrat Sen. Kathy Stein called the measure a “referendum,” and noted Williams previously said, more than once, that Kentucky isn’t a “referendum state.”

Williams also has said legislative approval is all that’s required for an expansion of gambling in the state.

It’s unclear what the vote means regarding legislation calling for a constitutional amendment on racetrack video lottery terminals. Introduced by Republican Sen. Damon Thayer, the bill remains in the Senate Committee on State and Local Government, which he chairs.

After the Senate vote, Thayer said his bill "will be considered on its own merits at a time to be determined. I continue to hear from horsemen and breeders who support the constitutional approach. Time will tell if the Democrats will block-vote against letting the people decide, as they did today on (Williams' bill)."

Some Democratic officials and leaders of Kentucky's horse industry have said the constitutional approach to expanded gambling would drag on and not offer the horse industry the immediate assistance it needs in regard to revenue for purses and breed development programs.

Meanwhile, legislation authorizing racetrack VLTs was sent to the House Committee on Licensing and Occupations Jan. 21. The bill, sponsored by Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo, closely resembles legislation that passed the House but died in a Senate committee last year.

Stumbo’s bill would funnel money to capital improvement projects for schools in the state. He hasn’t been positive on its chances for passage.

Enabling legislation for Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear’s budget plan that relies on more than $700 million in revenue from racetrack VLTs was sent to the Senate Committee on Appropriations and Revenue, where Democratic Sen. Ed Worley, its sponsor, expects it to remain.

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