02/29/2008 1:00AM

Group to work on Kentucky casino bill


A horse racing lobbying group in Kentucky said on Thursday night that it would support a bill asking voters to approve nine casinos in the state despite language in the legislation that would require racetracks to compete with casino companies for the licenses.

The Kentucky Equine Education Project, which is funded by a wide variety of racing companies and organizations, released a statement in guarded support of the legislation after its board met on Thursday night. In the statement, the group said that "we will work with legislative supporters of our industry to produce a final piece of legislation," indicating that the group would seek to amend the bill to include terms more favorable to the racing industry.

The support of the racing industry is seen as critical for any attempt to pass casino legislation in Kentucky. As evidence of the industry's strength, Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat who was elected last year after campaigning for the constitutional amendment, said on Thursday night that he would veto any bill passed by the legislature that does not include specific protections for the racing industry. The racing industry and casino companies gave millions of dollars to Beshear during his campaign last year.

A bill calling for a November referendum to amend the state's constitution to allow casinos was passed out of a committee in the state house of representatives on Wednesday. The racing industry had supported a version of the legislation that would have reserved up to five licenses for racetracks in the state, but that version was defeated in the committee on Tuesday.

Any legislation calling for a constitutional amendment requires a 60 percent vote in both houses of the legislature to pass. Currently, the bill does not have the votes to pass in either the house or the senate, according to legislators.