- Associated Press - Monday, February 10, 2014

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - A proposed ballot measure to let Kentucky voters decide whether to legalize casino gambling hasn’t garnered enough support yet to gain state Senate passage, a key supporter said Monday night.

Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Dan Seum acknowledged he hasn’t lined up sufficient backing after emerging from a closed-door meeting of fellow Senate Republicans to discuss the hot-button issue.

Seum, a Louisville Republican, said he wasn’t giving up on his proposed constitutional amendment, with more than half of this year’s 60-day General Assembly session still left.

“At this point in time, I have no plans of putting it on the (Senate) floor, obviously, until I have the necessary votes to pass a constitutional amendment,” Seum told reporters.

Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said the “sentiment is not there” right now to pass it in the Senate.

As a proposed change to the state Constitution, the measure needs at least 23 supporting votes in the 38-member chamber. Thayer declined to say how close supporters were in their pursuit of votes.

The measure would go on this fall’s ballot if it cleared the Legislature.

A group pushing to put the issue on the ballot said the development shows more work needs to be done in promoting expanded gambling.

The issue has strong grassroots support, and now the task is to have that translate into support among lawmakers, said Elizabeth Post, a spokeswoman for the group Kentucky Wins.

“We feel that it is impossible now for the legislators in Frankfort to ignore all this groundswell of support throughout Kentucky,” she said.

Expanded gambling opponent Paul Chitwood, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, said the proposal is on “life support.”

“Lawmakers realize that legalizing casinos is a bad idea because of the misery they’d bring to Kentucky,” he said in a statement. “They’re also aware that voting for casinos could very well cost them re-election because so many Kentuckians oppose the idea.”

Proposals to legalize casinos have been introduced in the GOP-led Senate and Democratic-run House.

Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear campaigned in support of expanded gambling as a revenue producer.

“If the governor wants it badly enough, he ought to go to the members of his own party in the chamber that they control and try to push the bill,” Thayer said.

Beshear spokeswoman Kerri Richardson declined to comment Monday night.

House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark, D-Louisville, has introduced two gambling proposals.

One is a proposed constitutional amendment that would let Kentucky voters decide in the fall election whether they want to make casinos legal. A companion bill specifies how many casinos would be allowed, how the industry would be regulated and how the state’s share of revenue would be distributed.

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

Clark has said the state would eventually take in an estimated $286 million in yearly casino-related tax revenues. Half the amount under his proposal would go to education, from preschools to universities.

Licensing fees granted to casino operators would generate at least $50 million more for the state for each casino at the outset.

Seum’s proposed constitutional amendment would allow up to seven casinos statewide.

Under his proposal, a proposed Equine Excellence Fund would receive 10 percent of gross gambling revenues to boost Kentucky’s horse racing industry through higher purses and breeders’ incentives.

Other state gambling revenues would go for job creation, education, human services, health care, veterans’ bonuses, local governments and public safety.

Seum sent a memo to fellow lawmakers last week touting the revenue potential from expanded gambling.

He said it would provide “much needed relief from the seven consecutive years of budget cuts that the state has experienced, which has resulted in less funding for schools, higher tuition at universities and community colleges and cuts to health and human services,” he said.

Beshear has cut about $1.6 billion from the state budget since taking office in 2007, due to sluggish state revenues caused by the recession. He recommended another $98.6 million in spending cuts in the two-year budget proposal he recently submitted to lawmakers. The cuts would free up more money for education.

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