Casinos could be built in Kentucky under a proposal that received a thumbs-up from a Senate committee on Wednesday.
The State and Local Government Committee voted 7-4 after hearing testimony from the state's leading casino proponent, Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear.
Beshear has been pressing lawmakers for a constitutional amendment that would allow Kentuckians to wager on more than horse races, which is a longstanding tradition in the Bible-belt state.
Wednesday's vote was the first on the issue since lawmakers convened in early January. The measure now goes to the full Senate for consideration. If approved there, it then would have to be approved by the House before being submitted to voters.
Armed with stickers saying "let the people decide" and wearing T-shirts that show the state's already with casinos, supporters of expanded gambling flooded into the state capitol annex where the governor took center stage.
"Voters have stated they don't want this issue in your hands or my hands," Gov. Steve Beshear told lawmakers in the Senate Local Government committee.
But instead of a bill calling for five casinos at horse tracks and two others away from them, the bill was changed Wednesday that would detail just seven casinos if voters approve it in November.
"Most of the details where to put them. How to tax them would be left up to enabling legislation to be decided down the road," said Beshear.
The bill has picked up some opposition from lawmakers who claim it gives the horse racing industry an unfair advantage. That's because of language saying casinos seperate from the tracks must locate 60 miles away. Senator Dan Seum calls that a monopoly.
"A group of people in downtown Lousiville who would like put a casino in, and you're telling me only Churchill Downs gets to choose?" asked Sen. Dan Seum. The Louisville Republican took opposition to the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce supporting the bill and giving an advantage to the horse racing industry.
Horse industry folks and those with business interests testified for it. Religious and family group advocates spoke against it. Mary Holman spoke of a family tragedy brought on by father addicted to gambling.
"It's painful to see my Kentucky heading down this path of sacrificing our children in exchange for establishing a bogus means of rescuing our state financially," said Holman, who told lawmakers that her father murdered her mother while facing gambling troubles.