02/14/2012 12:34PM

Kentucky introduces legislation for referendum on casino gaming


LEXINGTON, Ky. – Voters in Kentucky will be asked to approve a constitutional amendment to allow casinos at five racetracks and two other sites in Kentucky under a bill unveiled by Gov. Steve Beshear on Tuesday.

The legislation, which is being co-sponsored by Sen. Damon Thayer, would place the issue on the November ballot in Kentucky. Under state law, any legislation proposing to amend the constitution requires a three-fifths vote in both the House and Senate.

The unveiling of the legislation fulfills recent promises by Beshear, a Democrat, and Thayer, a Republican who once worked at Turfway Park. Beshear made introduction of legislation expanding gambling in Kentucky a priority during his 2010 re-election campaign, and Thayer had said that he would work with the governor, provided the legislation required voter approval.

Polling conducted over the past several years has indicated that Kentucky voters overwhelmingly support placing a referendum on expanded gambling on the ballot. The support drops off, however, when asked whether they would approve the referendum.

‘We’ve been debating this issue in Frankfort for more than 15 years,” Beshear said in a statement distributed Tuesday. “The citizens of our state are clamoring to be heard. Two recent polls show more than 80 percent of Kentuckians want to cast a ballot on gaming. Are we going to listen to them or not?”

Over the past several years, Republicans have blocked efforts by Democrats and the racing industry to pass legislation allowing for expanded gambling, though those efforts revolved around legislation that would directly legalize casino gambling, instead of a referendum. Republicans currently control the Senate, while Democrats control the Assembly.

Kentucky currently has five Thoroughbred racetracks and three harness tracks. A ninth racetrack license allowed for under the state’s laws has not been issued. The legislation requires five of the casinos to be located at tracks, but would reserve two casino licenses to locations that are “60 miles from the nearest racetrack.”

The bill introduced by Beshear and Thayer states that revenues from the casinos would be used to support education and the racing industry, but it does not specify the tax rates that would be applied to the casinos. Instead, additional legislation would be needed to determine where to put the caisnos and the license fees and tax rates that will be applied to them.