Gambling opponents warn casino bill may be unconstitutional - wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather & Sports

Gambling opponents warn casino bill may be unconstitutional

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Gaming opponents told lawmakers Wednesday a proposal to bring casinos to Kentucky could be unconstitutional. Gaming opponents told lawmakers Wednesday a proposal to bring casinos to Kentucky could be unconstitutional.
Stan Cave Stan Cave
Kent Ostrander Kent Ostrander
Rep. Larry Clark Rep. Larry Clark

FRANKFORT, KY (WAVE) - Gaming opponents told lawmakers Wednesday a proposal to bring casinos to Kentucky could be unconstitutional.

It was a new argument -- one the bill's sponsor disputed -- in a years-old debate about weighing job creation and tax revenues against gambling addiction. The House Licensing Committee heard from the opponents at a Wednesday hearing that ended in no votes taken.

A bill that spells out the locations and number of casinos to be created may be illegal if lawmakers approve it before voters decide on a constitutional amendment that would allow casinos in the first place, said Stan Cave, general counsel for the Family Foundation of Kentucky.

"To cast a vote in favor of an amendment to the Constitution is admitting that the Constitution doesn't permit the legislation that you're trying to pass," Cave said.

Cave warned that lawsuits would follow. But Rep. Larry Clark, D-Louisville, who has sponsored both the constitutional amendment bill and companion legislation that spells out how and where casinos would go, said his proposal is legal.

"I'm very comfortable with the legislation we've drafted," he said.

Clark said House leaders have decided to wait on the Senate to act on a constitutional amendment before holding their own vote in committee. Voters would need to approve any changes to the Constitution.

Sen. Dan Seum, R-Fairdale, said he will seek approval of his own constitutional amendment bill after Tuesday's candidate filing deadline passes.

In two speeches this month, Gov. Steve Beshear has mentioned casinos as a means of creating new tax revenue. But Beshear will need to do more before the legislature passes a casino bill this session after years of failures, Clark said.

"I think it's gonna take the 'bully pit' of the governor to get anything passed," he said.

Clark said casinos are necessary because he doesn't "see an appetite" this year to change Kentucky's tax code, another Beshear proposal to create new revenue.

Clark has said his enabling legislation would create eight casinos, of which five would go to racetracks. The other three would be located along interstate highways in counties that border other states.

Clark estimated that the casinos would create $830 million in revenue each year and pay $286 million in state taxes.

It's not a good investment because Kentuckians will spend money at casinos at the expense of other industries, said Kent Ostrander, executive director of the Family Foundation.

"Kentucky families will lose more money, and they'll be in worse shape if casinos come in," Ostrander said. "It's reasonable for anyone objective looking at it to say, this is not what we need in Kentucky."

Clark countered that Kentuckians are already gambling, just in other states. His bill includes money to address addiction problems, he said.

"We don't have fences or walls for people going outside of Kentucky to gamble," Clark said. "If you don't think they're gambling in Kentucky, go to Horseshoe (Casino, in Elizabeth, Ind.) on a Friday or Saturday night, and 56 percent of the license plates will be from Jefferson County."

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