Tuesday, March 9, 2004

Casino gambling not likely in Kentucky, backer says

By Patrick Crowley, The Cincinnati Enquirer
and Joe Biesk, The Associated Press

FRANKFORT - Just when it appeared legislation to bring casino gambling to Kentucky was gaining momentum, a key statehouse backer declared Monday that the effort was all but dead.

House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark, D-Louisville, emerged from a meeting with horse racing industry officials and said an impasse in the legislation's language could not be overcome.

"There'll be no gaming legislation as far as I'm concerned passed this session," Clark told reporters after the meeting. "I don't know if they're being greedy, but they walked away from $1.5 billion because they couldn't agree amongst themselves."

Turfway Park President Bob Elliston said negotiations broke down over the language of a constitutional amendment legalizing casino gambling. Clark had proposed putting the amendment on the November ballot.

Elliston said the horse racing industry wanted the bill to be specific, while others he would not name wanted language that was vague. He said since voters would have to decide the issue through the constitutional amendment, "we wanted as many things as possible spelled out."

The horse racing industry, which has lobbied for gambling to compete with casinos in neighboring states, wanted the bill to stipulate that a casino could not be built within 25 miles of another casino.

That was designed to protect tracks such as Turfway, which was concerned about competition if another casino was built elsewhere in Northern Kentucky.

There was also disagreement over the number of casinos. The racing industry wanted a set number of casinos included in the ballot language. Others involved in the negotiations - presumably lawmakers - wanted to leave that up to the legislature, provided voters approved the constitutional amendment.

"We wanted to get into this business in a limited fashion with a constitutional amendment that was designed to take care of designated market places for casinos," Elliston said. "In the absence of that constitutional protection, anyone could come in and try to get a casino in their local jurisdiction."

Clark also cited disagreements, but said they were within elements of the horse industry. Particularly, the industry would not agree to a provision that would allow local communities to have final say whether they wanted a casino.

Local approval may have been difficult for Turfway. The track is in Boone County, known as a socially conservative community.

Last week, Clark's bill had a hearing before a House committee, which was preparing for a possible vote on the legislation this week. Casino gambling would be a windfall that could bring in more than $437 million each year, Clark said.


E-mail pcrowley@enquirer.com

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