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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- It was once Kentucky's hottest issue. Now casino gambling is barely on the General Assembly's radar screen. But the issue has again resurfaced as a solution to the state's cash crisis.
Casino gambling was thought to be dead for this session, but it may have a slight pulse after all. Rep. Dennis Keene, a Democrat from Wilder, has introduced a new casino bill. "If we're talking about raising money, this is an avenue that we must address," said Keene.
Keene's bill, HB 52, is about the money. It would create casino gaming without a constitutional amendment. Instead, it would be a local option. Cities with populations over 90,000, and with racetracks would be allowed to vote.
The Kentucky Lottery would provide oversight.
"Nobody wants to be taxed. When you talked about raising people's taxes, 'Don't raise my taxes.' But this is a stream of money that can enhance the Commonwealth and take care of some of our issues that we need to take care of," Keene said.
During a hearing today, Keene said seven casinos would generate $295 million a year for the state.
His bill earmarks funds for programs such as economic development, early childhood education and to help rescue the $30 billion underfunded state pension program.
"Certainly the designated revenue source in House Bill 52 would be a significant positive for the retirement system. And if we receive $97 million, that's going to help fill a portion of the hole," testified Bill Thielen, executive director of the Kentucky Retirement Systems.
The dollar signs were enough to convince some members of the committee.
"We're always having shortfalls of cash and yet our needs continue to grow and the expectations of our constituents continue to grow as well," said Rep. Susan Westrom, a Democrat from Lexington.
"And I just don't understand some people. They seem to want to do something but they don't want to bite the bullet," said Rep. Charles Miller, a Louisville Democrat.
Keene's hearing was lightly attended, and casino gambling is getting no push from the governor or from the House and Senate leadership. "It's going to take the courage of my colleagues to step up to the plate and say we're going to do something about this problem," said Keene.
The committee did not take a vote. Keene says he'll hold a second hearing so casino gambling opponents can have their say.