Stop The Presses!

by Ed Meyer

posted on May 30, 2009 in News | No Comments >>

The executive director of the Family Foundation said Thursday the group will challenge the constitutionality of any legislation authorizing video lottery terminals at horse tracks if passed by the General Assembly.

“We will file suit if the governor calls a special session which includes expanded gambling,” said Kent Ostrander. He later clarified that statement to say the group will sue if the legislation is passed without a constitutional amendment and voter referendum to approve the expansion of gambling.

Gov. Steve Beshear is expected to call a special session – some lawmakers say it’s likely to commence on June 15th – to deal with an expected state revenue shortfall of up to $1 billion. He is also considering putting the question of electronic slots at race tracks on the agenda and has said Kentucky’s signature horse industry is “in crisis” and “is close to being in free fall.”

The bill is sponsored by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, and does not include a constitutional amendment. While serving as Attorney General from 2003 to 2007, Stumbo issued an opinion that no constitutional amendment is required but that contradicts previous AG opinions – most recently in 1999 by Ben Chandler.

Ostrander cited Chandler’s opinion in his Thursday news conference, saying the authority to expand gambling beyond the state lottery authorized by a 1988 amendment must also be established by amendment. Chandler’s opinion argues as well that legislative debates leading to the 1988 constitutional referendum included assurances the state lottery “would not encompass electronic devices and slot machines.”

Stumbo’s opinion conversely argues the state constitution specifically banned lotteries and constitutional debate clearly indicated the ban would not affect wagering on horse racing. He contends as well that his bill would restrict the electronic slots to existing tracks where gambling is already legal and thus does not constitute expansion of gambling.

But Ostrander said it’s clear that a constitutional amendment is required and he cited statements by Beshear when he ran for governor in 2007 that it was then “time to put this question on the ballot and let the people decide.” Ostrander said Beshear promised “as governor of this state I will make sure Kentuckians have that chance.”

Ostrander also recalled the public campaign of the Kentucky Equine Education Project or KEEP which called for a public vote on the question of casino gambling – a measure which failed to pass either chamber of the General Assembly in the 2008 session.

He said the present push for electronic slots at race tracks is an attempt to bypass the right of the public to decide the issue and promised to “take all legal steps necessary to stop the slots activity that is trying to by-pass the people.”

Even Stumbo has said he expects the legislation to face several court challenges if passed.