A long-awaited proposal to open Kentucky to casino gambling could be introduced in the state's Senate within days.
Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear said Wednesday he has reached an agreement with state Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, on the wording of a proposed constitutional amendment. Thayer, who supports casino-style gambling as a means to generate revenue for Kentucky's thoroughbred industry, will sponsor the measure in the Republican-controlled Senate.
"We will spend the next few days laying the groundwork for its introduction," Beshear said in a statement. "We are hopeful that our senators will give this bill the full consideration it deserves, since repeated polls show that Kentuckians are demanding an opportunity to vote on this issue."
Beshear has been pushing for years to allow Kentuckians to wager on more than horse races in the Bible-belt state. He wants to lift the constitutional ban on casinos in hopes of keeping money in Kentucky that is now being gambled in neighboring states, like Indiana.
If lawmakers approve a constitutional amendment, it would be placed on the ballot for voters to ratify or reject in November.
Martin Cothran, spokesman for The Family Foundation, said he believes the measure will ultimately fail.
"Support for the gambling legislation is collapsing faster than a 10-dollar tent in a hurricane," Cothran said in a statement. "They didn't have the votes to begin with, and now what little support they have is deteriorating by the day."
Gambling proponents have been at odds over whether to propose a simple constitutional amendment or to describe precisely how many casinos would open and where.
"I think a lot of people are just fed up with the infighting and lack of action and want to move on to other things," Cothran said.
Beshear's gambling push has been complicated by a bitter partisan fight over legislative redistricting. He had said in December that he was confident a bill would be filed during the first week of January.
The state's horse industry, hoping to cash in on casino gambling, wants to use some of the proceeds from gambling to increase racing purses at Kentucky tracks to draw more horses into the state.
Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, said gambling proponents have been weighing differing proposals. One would call for two free-standing casinos and four to be tied to existing horse tracks. Another would be more general, designating no particular number of casinos or locations for them.
The gambling issue has lingered since Beshear's 2007 gubernatorial campaign. He ran on the promise to expand gambling opportunities in the state but so far has been unable to fulfill that promise. He was re-elected this year in a campaign that included the same gambling pledge.
The governor insists that Kentucky is losing hundreds of millions of dollars to neighboring states that allow casino-style gambling. He said Kentucky could recapture some of that money for needs within its borders by offering the same kinds of gambling here.