Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Casino Gambling Amendment: Now, Later, Never?

The House Elections and Constitutional Amendment Committee failed to pass an amendment that all sides could live with. Voting down two version this morning does not seem to bode well for the future of expanded gambling in the House.

Majority Whip Rob Wilkie and Speaker Pro-tem Larry Clark have sided with the horse industry in their attempt to guarantee that the race tracks will have the opportunity to have a casino. This version failed 5-3 with 3 members abstaining.

House Speaker Jody Richards does not believe that the tracks should be entitled to special treatment and therefore should have to compete for a gaming license just like everyone else. Richard's version also failed to gain committee support and was voted down also.

Governor Beshear who felt like he had a commitment from House Leaders to pass some version was quoted by Pol Watchers as saying that the House needed to get their act together.

There have been a couple of side bars to this debate, one being the rumors flying around that the horse industry is being asked to give contributions to the House Caucus to beef up their position. Some have even reported that the FBI is looking into the matter. A few things seem apparent to me and that is the Horse Industry and the tracks feel like they should receive special consideration and since this sentiment has not been shared by the majority of legislators now they are crying wolf. Governor Beshear may have made promises to them during his campaign but I don't recall Speaker Richards making them any promises.

Rep. Wilkie and Rep. Clark both have tracks in their areas so I can understand their position up to a point but it is obvious that they don't have the power to out muscle the Speaker. It must be noted that all political eyes have been on Greg Stumbo's return to the House and that he has sided with Speaker Richards on this issue. Stumbo commented this morning that the horse industry had bitten their noses off to spite their face and that the Constitutional Amendment may very well be Dead now.

I don't know where this leaves the issue in the General Assembly but I don't see any excitement or much support at all in Western Kentucky on the issue. The most prevalent comment from average citizens is "been here, done that" with the lottery. People are not convinced this will help because they were told the money from the lottery would be used for education and that did not happen.

Gambling already exist for most people who want to gamble in Western Kentucky. They can drive to Paducah, Franklin or Henderson to bet the horses. If they have an account at the track then they can call in their bets. If you have a credit card and a computer then you can bet on line anywhere in the world. Poker machines exist in every private social and fraternal organization in the State. Every community has a beloved bookie who will get you started in this sport of gaming. So, we have gambling.

I would agree that there are probably more people for it than against it in the Urban areas but I'm not buying that the 80% of Kentuckians in favor are from Rural Kentucky. I believe prudent leadership on behalf of the Governor called for making sure he had an iron clad agreement with House Leadership before he presented his legislation. There is not a enough support in Rural Kentucky on this issue for the Governor to try to politically persuade or arm twist Rural Legislators.

With all that being said I believe this has created a leadership mess within the legislature and the body politic in Kentucky. I'm fond of saying that political power is like money. It is never lost. One person's loss is someone else's gain and right now the only person winning is Sen. David Williams. We still have a ways to go in the Session but when it is all said and done it will be interesting to see who is left standing. If I had to bet, I guess I would bet on Speaker Richards and Greg Stumbo because they have the battle experience and the moxie to fight these wars.

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