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Casino Proposal Hits Snag Halfway Through Legislative Session

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Discord among House lawmakers is slowing a
proposal to legalize casinos in Kentucky.

One of the issues dividing legislators centers around whether
voters in communities where casinos would locate should have the
right to turn them away, or whether that decision should be left to
locally elected officials.

A House committee faced with three separate casino proposals
adjourned on Wednesday without taking any action.

Antigambling advocates were heartened by what the Rev. Nancy Jo
Kemper terms "a cat fight" among lawmakers.

"The more they argue among themselves, the more it delays the
progress of any bill," said Kemper, head of the Kentucky Council
of Churches which has been lobbying against casinos. "This is kind
of shooting themselves in the foot, again."

State Rep. Darryl Owens, chairman of the House committee, said
Wednesday's turn of events isn't necessarily a sign that the
proposal is languishing.

"I don't want to attach any significance to it," Owens said.

Although Kentucky has a long history of wagering on horse races,
the state's constitution bans casinos. Gov. Steve Beshear unveiled
a much-anticipated proposal last week to change the constitution to
allow 12 casinos to open across the state, seven of which could be
built at horse tracks. One of the new proposals would guarantee no
casinos at horse tracks. Another would guarantee up to five at
horse tracks.

Beshear said casino gambling could generate up to $600 million a
year in additional tax revenues for Kentucky's cash-strapped
government, which faces a $900 million shortfall over the next two
fiscal years.

House lawmakers gave Beshear's plan a lukewarm response. Some
said the plan calls for too many casinos. Others believe residents
of communities where the casinos would open should have the right
to turn them away through local ballot referendums.

Kemper said lawmakers have traditionally been sharply divided on
the casino issue - a situation that has played in favor of
opponents.

"We always felt like we haven't had to fight real hard to get
it defeated, because they defeat it themselves," she said.

Opponents, however, are taking nothing for granted. Some 200
members of Women Against Gambling Expansion gathered at the Capitol
on Tuesday to express their displeasure with the casino proposal. A
long line of other groups have also rallied against the proposal,
including a group of black ministers who said allowing casinos into
the state would lead to broken homes and broken lives.

Democratic state Rep. Joni Jenkins, chairwoman of a subcommittee
studying the gambling issue, proposed a measure on Tuesday that
would allow no more than nine casinos to open, but only with
approval of voters in the communities where they would be located.
State Rep. Larry Clark, D-Louisville, introduced a third option on
Wednesday calling for the same number of casinos as Jenkins, but
deleting language about voter approval in the various communities.
His bill said approval would be given by local governing bodies,
whether city councils or county commissions.

Owens said he doesn't plan to reconvene the House Elections,
Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee
until next Tuesday, after lawmakers have had time to study three
separate casino proposals now under consideration.

"This gives them time to consider it, and hopefully come back
and we'll take some definitive action," he said.


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