Saturday, February 28, 2004

Legislation protects tracks

Only Turfway would be allowed N.Ky. casino

By Bruce Schriner
The Associated Press
and Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

FRANKFORT - Northern Kentucky would be in line for just one casino under legislation introduced Friday that would give voters the option of legalized casino gambling.

Boone County's Turfway Park would be allowed to operate the only casino within 25 miles of the Florence thoroughbred racetrack, according to the legislation.

Developers, including Kentucky Speedway President Jerry Carroll, hoped to build a casino elsewhere in Northern Kentucky, possibly along the Ohio River or just off Interstate 75 in Fort Mitchell. Carroll owns the former Oldenberg Brewery, off Buttermilk Pike at I-75.

But the bill seeks to protect racetracks from casino competition.

Carroll could not be reached Friday but said Thursday that preventing a casino from being built in Northern Kentucky "was the wrong approach."

"Do it right with casinos, not just slots at race tracks," said Carroll, the former owner of Turfway Park.

The legislation envisions nine casinos - five controlled by the state's horse tracks and four independent casinos elsewhere in the state.

Two ranking lawmakers immediately expressed doubts about the bill's odds.

House Speaker Jody Richards said he had a "moral problem" with casino gaming. He said the proposal would have a hard time mustering enough support with one month left in the legislative session.

Senate President David Williams said he detected no support.

"I haven't had one person in the Senate come to me and talk about expansion of gambling at this juncture," he said.

Turfway Park President Bob Elliston said Friday that the horse industry would assess the bill.

"I have not seen a final draft, and (the industry) reserves the right to give a categorical endorsement of it," Elliston said Friday. "We'll get together early next week and if we can support the legislation, then we'll get to work lobbying lawmakers to support it."

The horse industry is most interested in equity for the varied interests it represents in Frankfort, Elliston said.

"No aspect of our industry should be left behind," he said. "Horse owners, breeders, track operators, the workers - we need something that moves the entire industry forward as we look at this issue."

For the last few years the horse industry has resisted and even battled efforts to make casinos part of the gambling package in Kentucky. But by finally giving in to casinos, the industry was able to persuade lawmakers to pursue the bill that would ultimately - through a vote of the people - legalize casino gambling in Kentucky.

Supporters are pursuing a two-pronged approach.

First, they want to amend the state constitution to allow for expanded gambling. A companion bill would allow licenses for nine casinos and create a gaming commission to regulate them.

The House legislation was introduced by Rep. Larry Clark, the House speaker pro tem. Sen. David Boswell is sponsoring the Senate legislation.

Clark, D-Louisville, said Kentuckians living far away from the casinos would share in the benefits. Clark has estimated that within five years, the casinos could generate more than $400 million each year for the state. About 60 percent would go to education and Medicaid.

Another $2 million would be earmarked each year to treat compulsive gambling, Clark said.

Also, the non-track casinos would pay a fee - 10 percent of revenues - to support the thoroughbred industry, he said.

Owensboro has been mentioned as a location for a stand-alone casino, as well as unspecified sites on Interstate 24 in western Kentucky and along north-south I-75.

The legislation would give local leaders veto power over a casino proposed for their area, Clark said. Each proposed casino would require approval by the county governing body, he said.


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