Lawmakers say their fight for casino gaming isn't over yet
Rep. Darryl Owens (D-Jefferson)
By Connie Leonard
LOUISVILLE (WAVE) -- Some Kentucky lawmakers are burning the midnight oil after a request from Gov. Steve Beshear to "get their act together quickly!" The sense of urgency comes after a House committee surprisingly failed to pass the constitutional amendment to legalize casino gaming. But as WAVE 3's Connie Leonard reports, House leaders think they can save it.
The race to get casinos into Kentucky -- and specifically at its horse tracks -- seemed to be a longshot at best after a House committee voted it down Tuesday. But committee chair Darryl Owens says don't throw those tickets down just yet.
"I think we all feel a sense of urgency," Owens said during an interview Tuesday night.
Urgency after two separate proposals for gaming led to a big step backwards for the Governor's casino plan. Horse industry officials told lawmakers before the vote it's imperative that five of the nine gaming licenses must go to Kentucky tracks.
House speaker pro tem Larry Clark agrees.
"The casinos will probably be operated by people outside of the state. Sure, so they'll sweep those accounts every Friday and send the money out of state. I would like to see Kentucky investors in place here so we can keep the money in Kentucky," said Clark.
Owens says the other version of the proposal that does not guarantee the tracks five licenses, but says five of the nine may be at Kentucky tracks is the bill that has the best chance of getting out of the House. He promises under that version the horse industry will be taken care of.
Owens no matter which bill passes, there is strong commitment to making funds available for breeders and all those other things they're talking about. So either way it goes, they're going to benefit. Still gaming opponents see the amendment's failure as a huge win.
"The legislators don't have their act together on this issue," says David Edmunds of the Family Foundation.
"What do you say to all those folks out there that wanted to vote -- at least get the chance to vote on gaming and now they're worried that this thing is done? Well I say to them that I want to do what's best for the Commonwealth of Kentucky and make sure we protect our signature industry. Make sure they know what they're voting on," Clark said.
Churchill Downs officials aren't giving up yet.
"We'll obviously be back talking with individual legislators and seeing what the next steps are," said the track's Kevin Flanery.
Owens isn't giving up either but he says if they can get it done, Gov. Beshear has to move it.
"This is the Governor's issue. If this bill comes out of committee, the Governor's going to have to do the heavy lifting," said Owens.
The makeup of the committee changed Tuesday night. State Representative Dottie Sims was replaced with John Will Stacy and Tim Firkens. Sims says it's because she voted against the bill, but House Speaker Jody Richards says it's because the Governor asked for quick action.
Meanwhile, Clark tells me he spoke with horse industry officials Tuesday night about a proposal to even things out. That proposal would put five casinos at tracks instead of four and five casinos at other locations. Owens says they should instead focus on the two plans they have.
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