FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - A beleaguered proposal to legalize casinos
in Kentucky will not pass in the current legislative session, Gov. Steve Beshear said Thursday.
"For this session, it is dead," Beshear told reporters at an impromptu press conference outside his Capitol office.
The Democratic governor had pushed for a constitutional amendment to legalize casinos. He said allowing casinos to open, then taxing them, could have generated up to $600 million a year in much needed state revenue.
Although Kentucky has a long tradition of wagering at horse
tracks, the state constitution specifically forbids casinos. If lawmakers had agreed to amend the constitution to allow casinos, voters would have had a chance to ratify or reject the proposal in a ballot referendum.
Beshear made the announcement after a brief meeting with leading
Democratic lawmakers late Thursday.
"We agree that we do not have the votes necessary to pass the
gaming amendment in the House, and we see no prospect of getting that number of votes with the little time remaining," Beshear
House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, vowed the fight
for casinos isn't over.
"Certainly, we will come back in the future and try to get the votes," he said.
John-Mark Hack, head of the antigambling group Say No To Casinos, said Beshear and lawmakers wasted time and effort pushing the casino measure, even though it has been clear for weeks that the proposal stood no chance of passing.
"The governor admitted the obvious," Hack said. "There's no cause for celebration because the tragedy is we've lost an opportunity to address very important issues that our state faces."
Beshear had argued that casinos could help stave off a projected
$900 million financial shortfall that threatens to cause severe cuts in government services.
Beshear said Monday he would make one final push to get House lawmakers to approve the casino measure, which needed at least 60
votes before it could be sent to the Senate for consideration.
Dave Adkisson, head of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, appeared with Beshear to encourage lawmakers to act. Adkisson said
Kentucky residents already are spending more than $1 billion a year at casinos in neighboring states of Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and West Virginia.
"I'm surprised but thankful that it didn't pass," said state
Rep. Tom Riner, D-Louisville, a Baptist pastor. "It would have
hurt a lot of families that are struggling with financial problems
and looking for a quick fix."
Because of that, Riner said, lawmakers weren't willing to open
the state to casinos.
"I think gambling brings with it many of the social problems
that in the end are going to cost us much more in terms of lives
destroyed, families destroyed."
Beshear made the casino issue a centerpiece of his campaign last year, winning a lopsided victory over Republican incumbent Ernie Fletcher, who had been indicted on criminal charges for allegedly violating state hiring laws. Beshear tried to paint his victory as a mandate for gambling. Lawmakers rejected that argument.
"I think it's fair to say that legislators here in Kentucky, or
anywhere else, don't like to have to handle controversial issues if
they don't have to," Beshear said. "They obviously worry about
the constituencies back home and what effect it might have on their
Even so, Beshear said he will certainly consider raising the
issue again in 2010, which, under state law, is the earliest the issue could be placed on the ballot for voters to consider.
"Obviously, we will see how things develop over the next year
and a half, as we approach the 2010 session, to see what might be
possible at that time," he said.
The casino legislation is House Bill 550.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)