Governor Steve Beshear's constitutional amendment to legalize casinos in Kentucky has cleared its first legislative hurdle.
The bill passed the Senate's State and Local Government committee 7-4 today.
The measure would allow up to seven casinos in Kentucky. But the committee changed the bill, dropping language that requires five of the casinos to be at horse racing tracks. The measure still requires a 60-mile buffer zone between tracks and independent casinos.
"You know the 60 mile radius is really a number that you come to by negotiating, trying to figure out what's a reasonable radius to have," Beshear told the committee. "I would agree with you it could be 40, could be 70, you know you need some type of reasonable buffer in order to protect the tracks and make sure it can stay in existence."
Martin Cothran of the Family Foundation told committee members that the bill still gives the racing industry a monopoly.
"What other industry in this commonwealth gets that kind of a benefit? We don't know of one," he said. "The horse tracks and casino interests have given hundreds of thousands of dollars for political campaigns in this state and they have every right to do so. But we should not allow anyone, no matter how much money and power and influence they have to buy orchestra seats in the constitution."
The gaming issue previously failed to gain traction in the legislature, but its passage out of committee was spurred by Republican Senators Jimmy Higdon and John Schickel, who voted yes after having reservations about the bill.
The bill now heads to the full Senate floor, where its prospects are still uncertain. The bill's sponsor, Senator Damon Thayer, says he may still offer floor amendment when it's time for the vote.