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Senate Panel Rejects Slots Bill

The Kentucky Senate’s Appropriations and Revenue Committee has rejected a bill that would allow video lottery terminals at the state’s horse tracks.

Governor Steve Beshear proposed the measure as a way to boost purses and lift Kentucky’s racing industry, whose leaders say can’t compete with tracks in other states that offer expanded gambling.

The slots bill passed the Democratic-led House by a 52-45 vote last week, but Senate President David Williams said it had little support in his chamber, which has a Republican majority. The committee vote to defeat the bill was 10-5.

An alternative bill proposed by Williams that would impose a tax on lottery sales and out-of-state wagering on Kentucky races to help horse tracks was approved by the Senate last week, but the measure apparently won’t be considered in the House.

Gov. Beshear issued the following statement following the slot bill’s defeat:

“We began this special session with an agenda focused on resolving a $1 billion shortfall in our budget and on creating and retaining jobs during a time of extreme economic hardship for our state. The limited gaming proposal was designed to help save a signature industry in peril – an industry that means 100,000 jobs and $4 billion in investment for our state. It is unfortunate that every voice on this critically important issue was not heard and every vote not counted. It is too early to determine what steps we will take in the future to try to protect our signature business, but I will continue to work on ideas and proposals that will ensure this vital industry’s continued health. We must now move forward. We still have an opportunity during this Special Session to come together to balance our budget and adopt legislation that will create thousands of jobs and stimulate hundreds of millions of dollars in investment for our Commonwealth. I urge my colleagues in the General Assembly to continue this critical work as expeditiously as possible.”

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Horse Industry Reps Call For Slots Bill Approval

From Kentucky Public Radio’s Tony McVeigh

Kentucky’s horse industry continues pushing the slots bill that won House approval last week, even though Senate President David Williams says the measure is dead.

To help fill Ohio’s three-billion dollar budget deficit, Gov. Ted Strickland is backing video slots at the state’s seven racetracks. If the measure passes, Turfway Park – Kentucky’s closest horse track to Ohio – will go out of business, says Turfway president Bob Elliston.

“If River Downs get slots, and the General Assembly fails to move forward with putting us in a competitive position with that, it is absolute certain that Turfway will close,” Elliston said today in Frankfort.

Last Friday, the Kentucky House approved slots at Kentucky tracks, but Senate President David Williams says the bill will die in the Senate. Williams offered an alternative proposal that did not involve expanded gambling, but the horse industry says the plan is unworkable.

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Slots Bill Clears Kentucky House

From Kentucky Public Radio’s Tony McVeigh

History has been made in the Kentucky House with passage of a video slots bill sought by Gov. Steve Beshear.

After nearly three hours of debate, the House voted 52-45 for the slots bill despite protests from opponents, who said it was unconstitutional. Watching from the gallery was former Gov. Brereton Jones, who says it be would wrong for the Senate to not consider the measure, now that the House has spoken.

“I would say that would not qualify for any profile in courage award. I think the people elect their representatives for them to come up here and express their opinion.”

Senate President David Williams has already declared the bill dead. This is the first time in modern Kentucky history an expanded gambling bill has passed the House, since passage of the lottery amendment in 1988.

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Slots Supporters Rally in Frankfort

From Kentucky Public Radio’s Tony McVeigh

Hundreds of supporters of Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear’s expanded gambling bill rallied on the steps of the State Capitol.

The crowd, comprised mostly of people in the horse industry, waved signs and enthusiastically welcomed speakers like former Gov. Brereton Jones. Jones, who owns a horse farm in Midway, says all facets of the horse industry are united behind the video slots bill.

“As we realized that many other states have decided that they want what we have, we know that we have to fight to save our industry and that is exactly what we’re doing,” said Jones.

Also addressing the crowd during the hot, muggy rally was Gov. Steve Beshear and First Lady Jane Beshear.

Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Calvin Borel didn’t speak at the event, but later told reporters, he came on his own accord.

“I wanted to be here. I mean, we need it, sir. We need it bad. We need it for the people who work on the backside and people who work on the front side. We need to keep the horses going. This is the Kentucky Derby place. What gets better than that? Nuthin’,” said Borel.

House budget committee action on the slots bill is still pending.

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Slots Opponents Rally in Frankfort

From Kentucky Public Radio’s Tony McVeigh

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear’s bill to expand gambling in the commonwealth drew several hundred opponents to a rally in the rotunda of the State Capitol.

Buck Run Baptist Chuch Pastor Hershael York of Frankfort says video slots at horse tracks is not about the horses, it’s about gambling and greed.

“First it was about horses and increasing the purses and handle. But then, when the Herald-Leader showed in a series of articles that that’s simply not true, then today, it comes out in the paper, now it’s about schools,” says York, “the reality is, it is and it always has been about gambling. It’s about greed, pure and simple.”

Senate President David Williams urged the crowd to contact their lawmakers and tell them to “put the gambling back in Las Vegas where it belongs.”

The first vote on the video slots bill is pending in the House Appropriations and Revenue committee.

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Beshear Tweaks Agenda for Special Session

From Kentucky Public Radio’s Tony McVeigh

The special session of the Kentucky General Assembly is underway in Frankfort. Lawmakers are being asked to balance the budget, approve some economic incentives and a funding mechanism for major bridge projects, and allow video slots at horse tracks.

It’s an ambitious agenda, but House Speaker Greg Stumbo believes it can be accomplished fairly quickly.

“I hope that we get out of here in two weeks. Believe me, nobody wants to be here any longer than we have to be,” says Stumbo. “But these are major issues – all of them. We’re going to work as fast as we can, but we’re going to do it in a controlled manner. We can’t rush to judgment, I don’t think, on any of those issues.”

All of the agenda items will begin their legislative journey in the House budget committee.

Chairman Rick Rand is already predicting committee approval of each, including the most controversial measure, video slots at the tracks.

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Conway Says No Amendment Needed for Slots

From Kentucky Public Radio’s Tony McVeigh

Proponents of expanded gambling in Kentucky now have a current legal opinion bolstering their arguments that a constitutional amendment is unnecessary.

It’s only an opinion and it’s not legally binding, but Attorney General Jack Conway says it’s not necessary to further amend the state constitution to allow video slot machines at horse tracks.

Conway says the opinion relies heavily on the 1931 Jockey Club case, the binding legal opinion on the issues of gaming and lotteries.

“And, in their own discretion if they choose to do so, it is our advisory opinion that the courts of the commonwealth would uphold such an enactment,” says Conway.

Governor Steve Beshear wants lawmakers to approve video slots at the tracks in the special session now underway in Frankfort. Opponents of expanded gambling, who say the people should decide, are threatening a lawsuit.

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Beshear Unveils Slots Bill; Racing Commission Endorses Plan

From Kentucky Public Radio’s Tony McVeigh

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear has unveiled the video slots bill he wants lawmakers to approve in next week’s special legislative session.

The 150-page bill would allow video slots at horse tracks in Kentucky, with oversight by the Kentucky Lottery Corporation.

The tracks would each have to pay an initial application fee of $25,000, plus additional license fees that Governor Beshear says will generate $360 million for the state’s general fund.

The bill also provides several tax breaks that will be balanced by revenues generated by slots. The tax rate on tracks with slots would be 25-percent the first five years and 35-percent thereafter.

Beshear wants lawmakers to address the bill when they return to Frankfort next Monday for a special session on the budget. Senate President David Williams, who personally opposes expanded gambling, says there’s no need for the session.

Meanwhile the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission today unanimously approved a resolution supporting Beshear’s proposal.

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Beshear Adds Video Slots to Session Call

From Kentucky Public Radio’s Tony McVeigh

Saying it’s time to vote it up or down, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear is adding the issue of video slots at horse tracks to the agenda of the June 15th special session.

Governor Beshear says Kentucky is in danger of losing its signature horse industry, which he says is in crisis. The problem? The commonwealth is losing horses to other states that offer lucrative race day purses subsidized by video slots.

Beshear says Kentucky must follow suit and he’s willing to take the political heat if the effort fails.

“For too long, people have been afraid to act on this issue,” says Beshear. “The unknown, my friends, cannot be an excuse for timidity or inaction.”

Beshear says he does not believe a constitutional amendment on expanded gambling is necessary because gambling is already allowed at the tracks.

At least one organization opposed to expanded gambling has already promised to sue over that issue if a video slots bill becomes law.

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Group Threatens Lawsuit if State Approves Video Slots

From Kentucky Public Radio’s Tony McVeigh

A group opposed to expanded gambling is threatening to sue if video slots at Kentucky horse tracks are approved without a constitutional amendment.

Governor Beshear is considering calling a special session to address looming state budget deficits, and horse industry officials are hoping expanded gaming will be on the call.

But Kent Ostrander of The Family Foundation says if lawmakers approve video slots at horse tracks without first putting a constitutional amendment on expanded gaming before the people, the foundation will sue.

“The Family Foundation has always been against the substance of any law that would expand gambling because we do not believe that government should take upon itself to encourage its people to lose in order that it might gain,” he says.

Ostrander says the foundation is capable of raising the funds necessary for a protracted legal battle and “we will win.”

Governor Beshear’s office says the governor has made no decision yet on a special session or what may be on the call if there is one.