Saturday, March 16, 2002

Assembly leaders see scant hope for gambling bill

Senate President issues scandal warning

By Mark R. Chellgren
Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — The presiding officers of the House and Senate repeated their opinions Friday that there is little chance for passage of a bill to let Kentucky horse tracks open slot-machine casinos.

        And Senate President David Williams warned his Republican colleagues to be wary of entrapment and potentially illegal offers for their support.

        “I have no evidence of any illegal activity going on. I just see the atmosphere developing,” Mr. Williams said.

        Mr. Williams said he was not alleging that anything improper was accompanying the gambling proposal, or questioning the motives of legislators who support the idea. He also said he was not offering his warning as a way to diminish support for the legislation, which he opposes.

        “In no way will I impugn them,” Mr. Williams said. “I just see a dangerous atmosphere.”

        The House Licensing and Occupations Committee earlier this week approved the bill, on what its sponsor said was a procedural matter. The committee is scheduled to take up the bill again on Monday.

        Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, said there seemed little likelihood the entire House will get a chance to vote on the proposal.

        “Not any time in the foreseeable future,” Mr. Richards said.

        Once again, Mr. Richards said the House outcome could hinge on whether the Senate would pass the bill.

        Mr. Williams, R-Burkesville, said all five members of the Republican leadership oppose the plan. “I don't see any support of any significance in the Senate,” Mr. Williams said.

        Mr. Williams said lobbyists are still working on the legislation, including one who asked Thursday night whether some projects in the budget might change his mind.

        Mr. Williams said Sam Thomas, a former House member who is a registered lobbyist for Turfway Park, wondered if a new golf course in his district or some other project would change his mind. Mr. Williams said he is adamantly opposed to expanded gambling. “I considered it (the question) inappropriate,” Mr. Williams said.

        Mr. Thomas issued a statement in which he said he “made an off-handed remark” to Mr. Williams.

        “My remarks were only intended in a joking manner. I now understand that Senator Williams found these remarks inappropriate,” the statement said.

        Turfway President Bob Elliston said the racing industry is not trading anything and is conducting its business above board.

        “We will absolutely not promise anything for anything,” Mr. Elliston said. “There will be absolutely zero tolerance for that — if it occurred.”

        The chief sponsor of the bill, Rep. Jim Callahan, of Wilder, said he didn't know anything about horse-industry lobbyists presuming to promise projects to legislators who would vote for the bill.

        “If they are, they are doing it on their own,” Callahan said.


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