06/15/2009 12:00AM

Kentucky attorney general gives slots go-ahead


Kentucky's attorney general, Jack Conway, issued an opinion on Monday that a constitutional referendum is unnecessary to legalize slot machines at the state's racetracks.

The opinion was issued on the first day of a special session of the legislature called by Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat. A bill legalizing slot machines at Kentucky's racetracks that is supported by Beshear and the state's Democratic leadership is expected to be introduced to the House during the session. Conway is also a Democrat.

Previous opinions on whether a constitutional amendment is necessary to legalize slot machines at racetracks have been mixed. In part, the opinion released Monday states that because the machines would be administered under the auspices of the Kentucky Lottery Corporation, the amendment is not necessary because lottery-type games are legal under the Kentucky constitution. In addition, the opinion notes that several other states, including West Virginia, Oregon, and New York, have allowed slot machines under similar constitutions.

The opinion is a victory for supporters of slots, including the state's racetracks. Opponents of slot machines in Kentucky have argued that the games are an expansion of gambling requiring approval through a public referendum. Under Kentucky's constitution, referenda can only be offered in even-number years. In addition, opinion polls have consistently indicated that voters are almost evenly split on whether they would vote to approve slot machines at racetracks.

Beshear's bill is supported by the speaker of the House, Rep. Greg Stumbo, a former state attorney general and a Democrat. As attorney general, Stumbo issued an opinion similar to that issued by Conway. The bill is opposed, however, by the state senate president, Sen. David Williams, a Republican.