FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Gov. Steve Beshear says he is working with Democratic leaders in the House to garner support for a beleaguered proposal that could allow casinos to open across Kentucky.
The measure, calling for a constitutional amendment that would
legalize up to nine casinos, is proving to be a tough sale in a Bible-Belt state where similar efforts have failed in the past.
Beshear and House Speaker Jody Richards acknowledged Thursday
that they don't yet have enough support to pass the measure through the Democratic-controlled House, where it needs 60 of 100 votes before it can be sent to the Senate for consideration.
"We're now going to be going out and working the House to try to line up the votes necessary to move this legislation along," Beshear said.
Democratic lawmakers revived the legislation on Wednesday by
voting it out of a House committee, the first step in the legislative process. The state's powerful horse industry had opposed the measure because it doesn't guarantee that any of the casinos would be tied to race tracks.
Beshear offered assurances on Thursday that enabling legislation, which would specify locations for casinos, would require that some go to race tracks to generate revenue for the horse industry.
"Any enabling legislation that we work on that does not give protections to the horse industry, I'm going to veto," he said.
Richards said he and other Democratic leaders have committed to
help Beshear get the measure through the House. Though it doesn't now have enough votes to pass, Richards said he believes enough
other lawmakers can be persuaded to win approval.
Beshear had made legalizing casinos a centerpiece of his election campaign last year. And since the legislative session began in early January, he has been pushing lawmakers to approve the proposal that would lift the constitutional ban on casinos. If lawmakers do as he wants, voters would have a chance to reject or ratify their action.
Taxes on casinos, if they were permitted to open, could generate as much as $600 million a year for government programs in the cash-strapped state, Beshear said. The state faces a projected budget shortfall of some $900 million over the next two years.
The governor unveiled his much-anticipated proposal earlier this month to change the constitution to allow 12 casinos to open across the state, seven of which could be built at horse tracks. Lawmakers overhauled Beshear's proposal, opting for the nine casinos, up to five of which could be at horse tracks.
"I think we all feel that the tracks need to have the opportunity to be involved in this casino process," Beshear said. "Obviously, it is partly to support them and to improve purses for them and to improve breeders incentives, all of the things that it takes to keep the horse industry here in Kentucky competitive with the rest of the country. It's our signature industry, and we've got to make sure that it stays our signature industry."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)