Saturday, February 22, 2003

Ky. Senate leader: Slots are long shot

By Charles Wolfe
The Associated Press

FRANKFORT - Legislation to give Kentucky's racetracks a franchise for electronic slot machines, for which they are offering the state $400 million, faces long odds in the Kentucky Senate, its top leader said Friday.

Proposed division of some of the $400 million that racetracks are offering to pay for exclusive rights to operate "video slots":
Senior citizens' prescription drug program: $25 million
Restored Medicaid funding: $70 million
Teachers' salaries: $52 million
Department of Corrections, education of inmates: $5 million
Local fire departments: $5 million
Local law enforcement: $5 million
Kentucky State Police: $8 million
Local governments for environmental cleanup: $5 million
Higher education: $25 million
Department of Fish and Wildlife: $5 million
State's budget reserve: $45 million
Debt service on bonds: $14,084,000 for bonds totaling $154,260,000
Bond projects
• Complete Lexington Center/Rupp Arena renovation.
• Complete state golf courses at Dale Hollow, Pennyrile, Grayson, Yatesville, Mineral Mound and Kincaid Lake state parks.
• Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center expansion.
• Purchase Area Regional Industrial Park.
• Warren County Regional Industrial Park.
• Rural water expansion projects
Senate President David Williams indicated he personally would stack the odds, as he threatened last year when the first bill to let the state's eight tracks operate "video lottery terminals" - video slots - was pending in the House. The 2002 bill cleared a committee but went no farther.

This year, the tracks are offering the cash-strapped state government $400 million through advance tax payments. Proponents estimate the state could make $200 million per year from slot machine revenues.

The tracks are pushing two bills - one to legalize video slots, which a House committee approved Thursday night, and one to appropriate the bulk of the $400 million. The House appropriations committee opened hearings on the bill Friday afternoon.

A draft of that legislation would spread the money over some influential groups - senior citizens, schoolteachers, sportsmen, local governments, police, firefighters and the universities, among others.

Part of the money also would be used to pay for bonds to generate even more money - $154 million - for construction projects.

But Williams said the bill could not be passed by a simple majority of the 38-member Senate. He said it would require a constitutional majority - 23 votes - under the General Assembly's rules for revenue-raising bills.

"If the bill comes to the Senate, it will be my ruling that that bill ... was intended to raise revenue and that it will take 23 votes to pass," Williams said in a news conference.

He said he had yet to see evidence of even 20 votes for such a proposal. He also noted it would take 20 votes to have the bill "discharged," or forcibly released, from a committee - a sign that he would have the bill assigned to a committee that would keep it bottled up.

Williams, R-Burkesville, said it would be foolish to base part of the budget on presumed income from gambling, which he said becomes less stable as it proliferates. Williams also raised a familiar moral objection - compulsive gambling.

"I have no moral compunction against gambling. I go to casinos on occasion myself," Williams said. But "compulsive gambling is largely around slot machines. ... It does not help the moral fiber of this state to make that more available."

At the appropriations committee hearing Friday, House Majority Leader Greg Stumbo disputed the notion of a moral issue.

Stumbo said there is no difference between betting $2 on a race and putting $2 into a slot machine.

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