FRANKFORT, Ky. -- After years of heated debate, expanded legal gambling faces perhaps its best shot at winning state approval in a special legislative session that begins at noon tomorrow, reports The Louisville Courier-Journal in its Sunday edition.
Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear has put the matter before lawmakers, saying a bill to allow slot machines at racetracks will bolster race purses that will save Kentucky's famed, but ailing, horse industry.
"This issue is controversial, but it's been around for a long time," Beshear said. "It's simply now time for a decision over whether this is the way to solve this problem."
But Republican Senate President David Williams remains firmly opposed, and if the bill can pass the Democrat-controlled House it faces an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Beshear has also asked lawmakers to consider three other matters during the session: a mechanism to help Kentucky pay its share of the $4.1 billion Ohio River Bridges Project, the rewriting of tax breaks the state uses to help create jobs, and a critical plan to balance the state's budget to account for a projected $996 million shortfall. The session -- which costs taxpayers about $60,000 per day -- begins with uncertainty over what it will produce and when it will end.
"I'm really concerned that there does not appear to be a consensus on some of these issues," said House Republican leader Jeff Hoover, of Jamestown. "I think it has all the potential for some contentiousness and with us being there for an extended period of time."
But House Speaker Greg Stumbo, a Democrat from Prestonsburg and proponent of the slots bill, predicted "a productive session. I'm hopeful that we can act on the gaming issue in the House fairly quickly."
For his part, Beshear expressed cautious optimism.
"I think we will accomplish our No. 1 priority, which is balancing the budget and curing a billion dollar shortfall," he told The Louisville Courier-Journal, and added, "Beyond that, there's no way to predict what will happen in this session."
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