By Janet Patton – firstname.lastname@example.org
FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear’s day-old proposal for slots at racetracks was shipped to an unfriendly Senate committee to wither on Wednesday and House Speaker Greg Stumbo said there is “no sentiment” for the bill in his chamber, either.
Stumbo promptly filed his own competing measure, which would spend tax revenue from slots on a massive school construction program. Beshear had proposed using $780 million from slots to help erase a $1.5 billion shortfall in the next two-year budget.
Senate Minority Floor Leader Ed Worley, the sponsor of Beshear’s expanded gambling proposal, made a slicing motion across his neck when asked about the prospect of his bill making it out of the Senate Appropriations & Revenue Committee, where the Senate’s Republican leaders sent it on Wednesday.
“Any bill that goes to A&R, normally that’s the writing on the wall,” said Worley, D-Richmond. Still, he noted that “there’s a long time between now and April and there’s a financial crisis here.”
The 60-workday session of the General Assembly is scheduled to end on April 13.
In the House, Democrats caucused Wednesday afternoon to gauge support for Beshear’s proposal, which would allow racetracks to add electronic slots under existing lottery laws.
Although no formal vote was taken, Stumbo said there was no sentiment in favor of the governor’s bill.
State Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, called the plan “delusional.”
Meanwhile, Stumbo touted his competing slots-at-tracks bill as “a great jobs bill”
“Over a billion dollars’ worth of construction. … Best thing we could do (for the budget) is create jobs all across the state,” he said.
The proposal is essentially the same measure that died in the Senate budget committee during a special legislative session in June. The only major change is that it now creates an earned-income tax credit for poor Kentuckians.
Stumbo said his bill anticipated $400 million to $500 million in state tax revenue from slots over two years when all facilities are completely operational.
Beshear on Tuesday said that temporary slots parlors could be up and running within six months. He anticipated $295 million in tax revenue in the first 18 months of operations.
His budget also includes hundreds of millions from licenses to operate seven or eight slots facilities. Up to $510 million in fees would be paid over five years, but Beshear included all of that money in the two-year budget.
The state would have to borrow $281 million on a short-term basis at a cost of $25 million. The loan would then be repaid as license fees are paid in later years.
Beshear’s revenue projections take into account the effect of new casinos in Ohio, which the governor’s office estimated would cut handle by 40 percent at Turfway Park in Northern Kentucky and Ellis Park in Henderson.
The horse industry expressed support Wednesday for Beshear’s budget proposal, which keeps gambling in the legislative conversation.
“We appreciate the governor’s strong and continued support for the state’s signature industry, which is facing significant competitive challenges,” said Jay Blanton, spokesman for Keeneland.
He said the intent of both Beshear’s proposal and Stumbo’s bill is “preserving Kentucky’s signature industry and providing recurring revenue for the state and its needs.”
Blanton also left open the possibility of supporting another slots proposal, one by Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, for a constitutional amendment on expanded gambling.
“We’re certainly willing to talk with anyone who wants to help the industry meet the challenges confronting us,” Blanton said. “However, our concern about a proposed amendment remains the same: our challenges require immediate relief; any proposed amendment that we’ve seen thus far would, at least, take years to afford any assistance to the industry. That hasn’t changed.”
Separate legislation that would require a constitutional amendment before gambling could be expanded was approved Wednesday by a Senate committee.
Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, said he offered the amendment to clarify the situation.
Proponents of slots have argued that they can be allowed under existing lottery laws, but there have been conflicting opinions by state attorneys general on whether a constitutional amendment is necessary.
Williams’ amendment would not affect Beshear’s current push for slots at racetracks, provided it is approved during this legislative session.
Williams said that a statutory approach to expand gambling would not be able to pass the House, let alone the state Senate.
“I think everyone is pretty much surprised at the in-your-face approach the governor’s taken with members of his own party over in the House as far as advancing gaming,” Williams said.