02/14/2008 12:00AM

Kentucky governor pushes casino amendment

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Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear on Thursday asked the state legislature to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would ask voters to authorize casinos at 12 locations in the state, including seven racetracks.

The proposed amendment, which was a centerpiece of Beshear’s successful gubernatorial campaign last year, would give full casino licenses to four Thoroughbred racetracks: Churchill Downs, Ellis Park, Turfway Park, and Kentucky Downs. A fifth Thoroughbred track, Keeneland Racecourse in Lexington, would share a license with the city’s harness track, the Red Mile. The other licenses would go to Bluegrass Downs in Paducah and Thunder Ridge in Floyd County.

Under enabling legislation that Beshear also proposed on Thursday, racetracks would retain nearly 60 percent of the revenue from the casinos for the first five years, leaving 40 percent of the money for the state. From the state’s share, nearly 16 percent would be earmarked for subsides for purses and breeder awards.

After five years, racetracks would receive nearly 50 percent of the revenues, with the remainder going to the state.

Racetracks would have to pay upfront license fees of between $50 million to $100 million for the right to operate casinos. Free-standing casinos would be subject to city or county approval, but not license fees.

The constitutional amendment is given long odds to be approved in the state’s senate, where Republicans have a 22-15 majority. To be placed on the ballot, a constitutional amendment has to be approved by 60 percent of the legislators in each house, and Republicans in the past have been unwilling to upset conservative constituents by approving any expansion of gambling.