- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 22, 2014

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky lawmakers would violate their oath to uphold the Constitution if they passed two casino-related measures at the same time, an expanded-gambling opponent told a House committee on Wednesday.

A court challenge would likely result, said attorney Stan Cave, representing The Family Foundation.

Cave’s comments provided a new twist to a perennial debate about expanded gambling in a state with a long history of wagering on horses that has resisted casinos.

The testimony came as the House Licensing and Occupations Committee reviewed two gambling proposals sponsored by House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark, D-Louisville. It did not vote on the measures.

One is a proposed constitutional amendment that would let Kentucky voters decide whether they want to legalize casinos. A companion bill would specify in state law how many casinos to allow, how the industry would be regulated and how the state’s share of revenue would be distributed.

Clark, the House’s second-ranking member, said Kentuckians deserve to know such specifics before getting a chance to decide on the ballot measure.

Cave, a former state lawmaker, said the General Assembly would raise constitutional problems by passing casino-related legislation before voters decided whether to amend the Constitution to allow casinos.

“How can you take an oath to uphold the Constitution and then … pass a bill that is prohibited by the Constitution?” he said.

Doing so would amount to “an acknowledgment that the oath to uphold the Constitution is being violated,” he said. “Legal challenges will follow.”

Afterward, he declined to say whether The Family Foundation would mount such a court challenge.

“But it would certainly be an issue that someone could litigate, successfully, I believe,” Cave said.

Clark said he doesn’t see a problem with his two-bill strategy.

“We’ll look at that and make sure that it’s proper,” Clark said of Cave’s comments. “That’s his opinion. It may have to be that the courts decide.”

Expanded-gambling opponents told the House committee that opening the state to casinos would harm Kentucky families, leading to more compulsive gambling.

“We are a state full of addictions,” said John-Mark Hack with the group Stop Predatory Gambling Kentucky. “Yet some of us would voluntarily invite another powerful addiction to settle within our borders.”

Clark’s companion bill would allow up to eight casinos statewide, including five run by racetracks.

The state would eventually take in an estimated $286 million in yearly casino-related tax revenues, he has said. His proposal would funnel half the amount to education.

Gov. Steve Beshear presented a proposed two-year state budget to lawmakers on Tuesday that includes $98.6 million in broad spending cuts to free up more money for elementary and secondary education.

Beshear said the cuts would cause more damage to a state government that has suffered about $1.6 billion in spending cuts in the past six years as tax collections plunged amid the recession. Beshear, an expanded-gambling proponent, did not factor any projected casino-related money into his budget.

Clark said the proposed cuts reinforce the need for additional revenues for state government.

“Either we’re going to have to come up with new revenue, or there’s going to be more cuts,” he said.

State Senate President Robert Stivers later said he personally opposes expanded gambling, but said he wouldn’t stand in the way of a vote if there’s sufficient support.

“I’m not a micro-manager of the process,” the Manchester Republican said.

Stivers also questioned whether a change to the state Constitution is needed to allow casinos, or whether it can be done through a statutory change.

“If somebody wants to read through the Constitution and show me where there’s a prohibition against gaming, then we’d better inform Keeneland and Churchill Downs,” he said, referring to the state’s two best-known racetracks. “Because they’ve been gaming for many, many years.”

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The legislation is House Bills 67 and 68.

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