Wanna bet gambling comes up again?

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By Richard RoBards

Casino gambling, that divisive phrase that has been floating around since Steve Beshear announced his candidacy for governor, is dead.

The obituary appeared in statewide papers on Friday.

Not even a landslide Democratic governor could leverage the necessary support out of a Democrat-controlled House to get it to a floor vote.

I'm disappointed.

I'm not disappointed that we won't have casinos in Kentucky, but because I won't learn how the majority feels since the question will not be on a ballot. I wanted to put the question to the ultimate test - a vote of the people.

But our lawmakers could never agree what the exact question should be, or so the obituary implied.

There was plenty of opposition and that's what makes our country so great - we can speak our minds without the fear of reprisal.

It's not like we don't know what gambling is. If we really want to visit a casino, it only takes a trip to Indiana, Illinois or West Virginia, and that's assuming all flights to Las Vegas or Atlantic City are full. And gambling doesn't stop at casinos. We have horse racing, a Kentucky lottery and NCAA basketball tournament brackets with which to contend.

But the funny money from casino gambling that Beshear had hoped would prop up a sagging Kentucky budgetary crisis won't be available to anyone until, at least, 2010. That's the next time that a constitutional amendment could go before voters for ratification.

Beshear touted casinos as a way to ensure a strong horse industry and to provide additional money for education and health care. With folks in higher education lamenting their future in the face of expected budget cuts, you'd think lawmakers would have found a way to let the people speak.

But legislators claim they are the voice of the people since the people elect them. I can't argue that point and have been critical in the past when I felt our leaders didn't lead.

Proponents of the casino issue claim that our state racetracks are at a competitive disadvantage to states that supplement racing purses with revenues from gambling establishments.

If that's true, then we may begin to see a racetrack or two suffer all the way to oblivion - nothing but a big manure pile. It would be hard to comprehend that Keeneland and Churchill Downs, with their popularity, would be a footnote to the casino gambling obituary.

But opponents were pounding their drums last week.

Senate President David L. Williams, who never failed to let his displeasure over the "gambling" bill be known, said the issue has been a distraction. You could probably say that about any bill you oppose.

John Mark Hack, head of the Say No To Casinos campaign, was more strident.

"They should cut their losses, pack up their chips and go home," he said.

It may not be the last time we hear of casino gambling in Kentucky, because it's one of those debates that will never die until the people officially speak.

But opponents don't want it to get that far. If it never goes before a vote, they know it won't pass.

You can bet on it.