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Beshear says casino issue remains alive




VIRGIE, Ky.

Gov. Steve Beshear said legalizing casinos remains a possibility in Kentucky even though lawmakers rejected the idea earlier this year.

“I don’t think that issue is dead,” Beshear told about 400 people gathered in a school auditorium in Virgie last week. “I think we will be talking about it a lot more.”

Beshear began a series of 13 town hall meetings on July 17 that will take him to communities across the state during the next four weeks.

The governor said he is especially interested in suggestions on how state government can continue to provide services under tight budet constraints. The state faces a $900 million revenue shortfall over the next two years.

Residents who spoke at the meeting in Virgie last week urged the governor to concentrate his efforts on creating jobs, building highways, fighting drug abuse and improving education.

Beshear, who received a standing ovation when he was introduced, raised the casino issue in a community where support for the proposal is at best lukewarm, said the Rev. John Doug Hays, pastor of Jack’s Creek Baptist Church and a former state senator.

“We’re a conservative, church-oriented community,” Hays said. “I just don’t think it’s a popular issue here. I understand what the governor says, that it’s happening all around us. By the same reasoning, you could say there’s prostitution in Nevada. Let’s bring in legalized prostitution. We have to draw a moral line in the sand.”

Beshear proposed legislation calling for a constitutional amendment to legalize casino gambling. That measure, he said, could have generated up to $600 million a year in additional state revenue.

His proposal had called for opening up to 12 casinos in the state and instituting a tax on them. If lawmakers had approved the proposal, voters would have had an opportunity to ratify or reject their decision in a ballot referendum.

Beshear said after the meeting that no decision has been made on when he will bring the issue back to the General Assembly.

“We’re going to listen to people as we go around the state,” he said. “Certainly, if we find out there’s no support for it, there won’t be any reason to bring it up. I don’t think that’s what we’ll find. I think a whole lot of people want a chance to vote on it if nothing else.”

State Rep. Leslie Combs, D.- Pikeville, said she supports allowing Kentuckians to vote on a constitutional amendment.

“We’ve been talking about it now for 10 years and we’ll continue to talk about it until the citizens of this state either vote it up or vote it down,” she said.

At least one political critic, Republican Party Chairman Steve Robertson, contends Beshear has scheduled the meetings in hopes of improving his image after a dismal start to his young administration. In his first go-around with the Legislature, he was unable to get lawmakers to approve his two primary objectives – the casino amendment and a proposal to increase the state cigarette tax from 30 cents to $1 a pack.

Beshear’s latest push should be easier to achieve – the creation of an “In God We Trust” license plate, calling on lawmakers to approve the idea when they return to Frankfort early next year.

Beshear complained about what he called “rank partisanship” in Frankfort.

“People are so intersted in fighting each other that they can’t get together and do what’s right,” he said. “It’s just been bickering back and forth, arguing back and forth, and getting nothing done.”


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