The day before a proposal to legalize casinos goes before a Senate committee, anti-gambling religious groups urged legislators to reject it.
Hershael York, the pastor at Buck Run Baptist Church who opened Gov. Steve Beshear’s budget address last month with a prayer against expanded gambling, led Tuesday’s rally at the Capitol with representatives from the Kentucky Baptist Convention and Kentucky Council of Churches.
Speakers called on the audience to contact legislators and speak out against Senate Bill 151, a constitutional amendment that would allow casinos at no more than five horse tracks and two stand-alone locations at least 60 miles from a track.
“I cannot imagine any initiative in the state government that would more grossly mock the poor than an initiative that clearly preys upon the poor,” Paul Chitwood, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, said in reference to casino gambling.
Senate Bill 151 is scheduled for a hearing at today’s Senate State and Local Government Committee meeting. The committee’s chair, Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, is sponsoring the measure.
If it clears both chambers by 60 percent vote, the constitutional amendment will be placed on the ballot in November.
Expanded gambling has been a major platform in Gov. Steve Beshear’s election and re-election campaigns. In a weekly address Friday, Beshear said opponents shouldn’t deny voters a chance to decide the issue.
He noted hundreds of thousands of dollars being gambled by Kentuckians in casinos in neighboring states.
“This money funds their schools, their libraries, their police departments, and other improvement,” Beshear said Friday. “It makes no sense to continue watching that happen.”
Beshear is scheduled to testify before the Senate committee Thursday, and he’s said opening Kentucky to casinos would yield millions in tax revenue and one-time licensing fees to the state’s coffers.
Thayer has said opponents and supporters alike will have a chance to testify at the meeting that was to begin at noon today.
It’s unclear how much support the proposed constitutional amendment has among legislators. The bill has drawn a bipartisan group of supporters, including Senate Minority Floor Leader R.J. Palmer, D-Winchester, and Republican Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, but some have voiced concerns that it would essentially give racetracks a monopoly over casinos.
York alluded to waning support of the bill.
“We have one area of great comfort, and that’s that this proposed amendment, this bill that will go before a Senate committee tomorrow is such a poorly-written piece of legislation that it pleases virtually nobody,” York told the crowded rotunda, which included Senate President David Williams.
He called on those in attendance to recruit at least 10 others to call their legislators and voice opposition to expanded gambling.
“This is a terrible piece of legislation, and let’s pray that they’re all so grieved, they all want such guarantees, that they can’t satisfy anything and this bill will die a timely death,” York said.