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Deck appears stacked against more gambling

By Gregory A. Hall The Louisville Courier-Journal

FRANKFORT - Seconds after roughly 35 legislators rallied Monday to break the legislative stalemate over expanded gambling, House Speaker Greg Stumbo said the effort still appears doomed.

"I'm just saying what members are saying," said Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg. " â ¦ What we're running into as we count votes is they know that the Senate's not going to act."

The issue remains at a standstill because leaders of the House and Republican-controlled Senate each insist that the other needs to act before their chamber will take it up. And with less than two weeks left in the session, time is short.

Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, said the House should act anyway.

"Obviously, time is running out," Westrom said. "But I know as a House member, we've got a job to do. It's our responsibility ... and the best thing we can do is take care of the House and the constituents we represent and then hope the Senate does the same."

While proponents say Kentucky is losing revenue to other states as residents cross state lines to gamble in states such as Indiana and Ohio where casinos have opened, opponents counter it's not worth any social service costs that would follow because of addictions. Some also oppose it on moral grounds.

Stumbo applauded Westrom for the rally but said he can't get House members to support a casino amendment because of a belief the Senate wouldn't vote on the issue, which would leave them vulnerable to criticism in elections.

Three amendments are pending in the General Assembly: one filed by Stumbo; one by Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark, D-Louisville; and one in the Senate filed by Majority Caucus Chairman Dan Seum, R-Louisville.

The Clark and Stumbo bills would allow casinos, leaving the details to enabling legislation.

The Seum amendment would allow seven casinos and guarantee 10 percent of revenues for the horse industry. Seum presented his bill at a Senate Republican caucus last month but emerged saying he lacked the 23 votes needed to pass it.

Amendments require support from three-fifths of both chambers and then ratification by voters in a general election.

Stumbo said the issue is about "10 to 15 votes short" of the 60 needed for a constitutional amendment in the House. He said the polling was not done on a specific bill.

Other House supporters disagreed with that count.

Clark said he believes the votes could be there if House Democrats caucus on the topic.

"I think if we go to caucus, we'll get a better count," Clark said. "Earlier, we had a lot of momentum; I thought we had enough. But I'd like to revisit with the caucus and count them in there and have (Rep.) David Osborne count the Republicans. I don't think we're 10 or 15 short, but I do think we have to have 61 or 62 before we call it" for a vote.

Osborne, a Prospect Republican who favors expanded gambling and is a horse owner, said he believes the votes are there to pass an amendment.

Of the 35 legislators at Monday's rally, only two were members of the Senate and both were Democrats - Minority Leader R.J. Palmer of Winchester and Morgan McGarvey of Louisville.

Stumbo said the lack of Republican senators at the rally only reinforced his view.

"I think the Senate needs to show some good faith on it," he said.

Two Senate Republicans said later they didn't attend because of other commitments.

Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said he continues to support submitting the issue to voters, although Thayer is one of the Republican leaders who has said the issue must start in the House.

Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, said he agrees with Stumbo that gambling could be approved simply by statute and Hornback would prefer to do it that way.

During the rally, Osborne quoted a 2009 special session floor speech by Stumbo, without naming him at first, when an expanded gambling bill passed the House. In the speech, Stumbo said no governor or senator would tell the House what to do and that the House would "act as an independent body; they will do what they will do and we will do what we know is right," Osborne recounted.

At that moment, rally attendee Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville, turned to Stumbo and grinned.

"Couldn't have said it better myself, Mr. Speaker," Osborne concluded.

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