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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- It's been a contentious issue for years, and some believe this time it's now or never.
Lawmakers got their first look Wednesday at the latest proposal for casino gambling in Kentucky.
An increasingly lean state budget, a struggling horse industry and growing public support -- those are the reasons supporters say expanded gambling has a real shot this year.
"We're open to any suggestions you have, but I think our goal is to pass a constitutional amendment this year," said Rep. Larry Clark of Louisville as he outlined his plan to the House Licensing and Occupations Committee.
It features a simple one-line amendment allowing voters to say "yes" or "no" to casino gambling. If the amendment passes then a second bill kicks in that contains all the details.
Clark wants eight casinos - one for each of the state's five horse tracks -- and three others at key border locations.
He believes the casinos will generate nearly $300 million in revenue for the state.
"I think we have to have a revenue source, and this is the best and easiest way to do it," said Clark.
Supporters also argue casinos are needed to save the horse industry which is losing ground to other states offering larger purses.
"It's been a function of, 'there are just not enough horses to run races.' That's because they're going to other states," said Rep. David Osborne of Prospect who owns a horse farm.
And casino backers point to polls which they say show growing public support
"I don't think this is a hard vote for anybody, politically, because you're just saying up or down. Is this a revenue source you want to enhance?" said Rep. Dennis Keene, a Democrat from Northern Kentucky who chairs the committee.
But opponents say they've heard all this before. They say supporting casino gambling is still political suicide, especially for Democrats trying to maintain their slim hold on the House.
"This could very well be the House Republican Majority Act of 2014. Because you've got Democratic legislators who are going to have to make a controversial vote. It's going to anger a lot of their constituents. So we think a lot of them will be very uncomfortable voting for a bill like this," said Martin Cothran of the Family Foundation.
Clark's plan is still a long way from a vote on the House floor. And so far, no casino bill has been filed on the Senate side.
The committee will hold a second hearing on Jan. 22 to allow opponents to have their say.