By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service
Rep. Larry Clark, D-Louisville, the Speaker Pro Tem of the House and primary sponsor of a bill to allow voters to decide whether Kentucky should allow casino gambling, had a simple response to those testifying against his bill Wednesday.
“Gambling exists in Kentucky — it’s just that waterways divide some of us from it,” said Clark after hearing testimony from representatives of two groups opposed the gambling, The Family Foundation and Stop Predatory Gambling.
Clark referred to casinos across the Ohio and Mississippi rivers where neighboring states allow casinos that draw a substantial number of Kentucky gamblers.
Clark is sponsor of House Bill 67, which would offer voters a “clean amendment” on the question, simply asking them to permit lawmakers to establish casino gambling. He also is primary sponsor of HB 68, the “enabling legislation” which would establish a Kentucky Gaming Commission and its duties — if the constitutional amendment were to pass voter approval.
Republican Sen. Dan Seem, also of Louisville, has filed a gambling amendment in the state Senate, although his limits the number of casinos and directs some of the proceeds to the horse industry. House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, has said the House won’t act on Clark’s or any other gambling measure until the Senate passes an amendment — because the last time the Democrat-controlled House passed a gambling measure it failed in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Clark reiterated that position Wednesday following the testimony from opponents. The committee hearing occurred the morning after Gov. Steve Beshear offered lawmakers an austere state budget with cuts to most programs in order to supply more money for education.
Beshear told them there are alternatives to that budget — more revenue through tax reform and through expanded gambling — and he would propose both during the legislative session.
But Kent Ostrander of the Family Foundation said Kentucky’s future depends not on more revenues but with its families, which would be undermined or “destroyed” by rapacious gambling interests. When asked by Rep. Arnold Simpson, D-Covington, about the number of Kentuckians who travel to Indiana, Ohio and West Virginia to gamble, Ostrander said those are no better — “they are ripping off their neighbors.”
Ostrander said he longed for political leadership in Kentucky who would tell “their children: don’t go out and gamble your money away.” Instead, he said, he sees “a lot of hand-wringing (from political leaders) that says: it’s a lost cause so let’s give in to it.”
Stan Cave, an attorney for the foundation, also questioned if passage of Clark’s second measure, the enabling legislature, would even be constitutional if it occurred prior to passage of the amendment. Both he and Ostrander questioned the integrity of gambling enterprises as well.
They were followed by representatives of a group called Stop Predatory Gambling. John Mark-Hack told the committee that casinos will require new gambling addicts in order to make money and offer inducements like free alcohol and discounts for lodging “to deceive addicts.”
“We are a state of addictions,” Mark-Hack said. “Yet, we would invite another addiction within our borders.”
The Licensing and Occupation Committee took no action; Wednesday’s hearing was specifically to offer gambling opponents an opportunity to state their reasons.
Clark said he appreciated their testimony.
“It was the right thing for us to do, to bring both sides to the table,” Clark said. Perhaps with a bit of sarcasm, Clark said Cave “lectured us on the constitutionality of the bill and we appreciate that. But I’m very comfortable with the legislation we drafted.”
Clark doesn’t believe lawmakers are likely to approve a tax reform package. He said Beshear will have to “use his bully pulpit” to give the gambling measure a realistic chance of passage.
RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.
By Ronnie Ellis
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