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Ky. Senator: Gambling Legislation Faces Long Odds

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Published on:
Jun/22/2009

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Lawmakers are expected to vote Monday evening on legislation that could legalize slot machines at Kentucky horse tracks.

Sen. Charlie Borders, chairman of the powerful Appropriations and Revenue Committee where the vote will be taken, predicted Monday morning that the proposal will not survive.

"I'd be shocked if it has the votes, or anywhere close to enough votes, to come out of committee," the Grayson Republican said.

House lawmakers voted Friday to approve the measure that would allow Kentucky's tracks to install so-called "video lottery terminals" that would offer casino-style games like slots. The proposal has been touted as a means to generate a financial windfall for a struggling horse racing industry, enabling Kentucky to better compete with other racing states.

The Senate favors an alternative proposal that would generate more money for the horse industry by placing a surcharge on lottery ticket sales.

Gov. Steve Beshear called lawmakers into a special session last week to address a projected $1 billion budget deficit. He later added the gambling issue to the agenda, saying it could generate some $300 million for state coffers though taxes and fees.

Beshear urged lawmakers to approve the proposal, saying Kentucky is at risk of having to surrender its title of Horse Capitol of the World.

State leaders have debated for years whether Kentucky, a state with a long tradition of betting on horse races, can offer casino-style gambling at the tracks. Opponents argue that the state constitution specifically forbids casino-style gambling. Proponents contend a previous constitutional amendment to allow a state lottery opened the door.

The American Gaming Association lists 12 other horse racing states - including neighboring West Virginia and Indiana - that allow bettors to use video gambling machines, slot machines or other casino-style games at the track.

In Kentucky, gambling advocates continued to push for the measure on Monday. At a Capitol press conference, they said a similar initiative appears to be gaining strength in neighboring Ohio. Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland wants to put slot machines at seven horse racing tracks as a way to help balance the state budget.

Strickland, a Democrat, said Ohio faces a $3.2 billion budget deficit that could lead to painful cuts in government services unless more revenue can be generated. He proposed the gambling measure to offset the cuts.

Turfway Park President Robert N. Elliston contends that if Ohio approves the plan and Kentucky does not, his northern Kentucky track will likely be forced out of business.

Borders said the Senate has a viable proposal for helping the industry with the lottery surcharge, which he said would make it unnecessary to open the state to more gambling. He said the slots proposal could devastate the state's economy and lead to unwanted social ills.

"There is a moral aspect that we cannot deny," Borders said. "We know for a fact that anytime you have gambling, it is detrimental to the family unit, it leads to more bankruptcy, more broken homes, more suicides."

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