By BRUCE SCHREINER
Associated Press Writer
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Gov.-elect Steve Beshear said Wednesday that his lopsided victory was a clear signal that Kentuckians want to decide the fate of casino gambling.
"Whether they are for it or against it, the overwhelming majority of people do want to vote on it," Beshear told reporters a few hours after Democrats celebrated his election. "I hope that was a very clear message that folks will notice."
Now the job of winning over lawmakers begins for the next governor.
Beshear defeated Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher on Tuesday after a campaign that provided a clear difference between the candidates on on whether casino gambling should be legalized.
Beshear started reaching out Wednesday to legislators who will decide the fate of a number of his initiatives, from casino gambling to education to health care. The governor-elect met in the afternoon with top House and Senate leaders and pledged to work with both parties to improve the quality of life in Kentucky.
He said he plans to talk with lawmakers about casino gambling. "I'm sure those conversations are going to go on over the next few weeks and months," he said.
Beshear supports amending Kentucky's constitution to allow a limited number of casinos at racetracks and at off-track sites along the state's borders. He estimates the extra gambling would generate about $500 million in additional tax revenue for such priorities as health care and education.
Even though amending the constitution to allow casinos would require a referendum on a future ballot, Fletcher campaigned on a "no casinos" theme, warning they would drain money from businesses and would lead to such social ills as more divorce, bankruptcies and crime.
Proposals to put the casino gambling issue on the ballot have been floated in previous years in the General Assembly but have died after making little or no headway.
State Rep. Larry Clark, a casino gambling proponent, said Beshear's margin of victory "gives him more strength trying to push that legislation through."
Beshear won with 59 percent of the vote.
Clark, a Louisville Democrat and a top House leader, pledged to "do everything I can" to help get a casino gambling measure on next year's ballot.
Clark said he's tired of seeing Kentuckians flocking across the border to gamble in neighboring states like Indiana and Illinois. "It's just transferring wealth from one state to the other," he said.
Sen. David Boswell, D-Owensboro, said he would introduce a proposed casino gambling constitutional amendment in the legislative session that convenes in January.
Boswell said he'll sponsor a companion proposal setting the number of casinos and how tax money would be spent if a gambling amendment won voter approval. His proposal calls for a total of nine casinos - five at racetracks and four off-track. The measure would funnel state gambling tax revenue to education, veterans programs and infrastructure projects like water and sewer lines.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)