Stumbo sworn in, says gambling bill is “a very high priority”

Rep.  Greg Stumbo was sworn as the new speaker of the House this morning after outgoing speaker Rep. Jody Richards resumed his seat among his fellow lawmakers in the chamber. 

Stumbo, a Prestonsburg Democrat, delivered a 7-minute speech to the body praising the work of former House speakers, including former Speaker Don Blandford of Philpot and Richards, who he said spent a “wonderful, wonderful 14 years” leading the body. 

“You have done a wonderful job for your state and your consitituents and may God bless you,” Stumbo said to Richards. 

Turning to the main issue confronting the state – an estimated $456.1 million budget shortfall this fiscal year – Stumbo said the state is in “a dire situation” and “the time for action is now.”

That action will likely include a bill Stumbo plans to file in the near future that would allow video lottery terminals at the state’s licensed horse race tracks that he estimates could bring in as much as $700 million to the state once fully realized.

The move could help shore up the state’s finances as well as offering a boost to the state’s horse racing industry, Stumbo said. 

How much financial relief, if any, it could provide to the state this fiscal year isn’t known, Stumbo told reporters after the House adjourned. 

“I’m convinced that if we don’t do something for our racing industry, our breeding industry, we will lose those,” Stumbo said. “We’re the only state of the Triple Crown (race) states that don’t have enhanced purses and enhanced breeders supplements supplied by revenue from racinos or other gaming sources. I think it tells us we’re behind.”

While attorney general, Stumbo issued an opinion that slot machines could be approved for use at race tracks by the legislature without requiring an amendment to the state’s constitution.

“It’s a very high priority with me,” Stumbo said of the bill, which could be filed this week. 

The draft of the bill is “99.9 percent” complete, Stumbo said, and would likely require 60 votes in the House for approval because this is not a budget year and the bill deals with revenue.

Stumbo wasn’t sure about the bill’s chances in the Senate, where Senate President David Williams has previously expressed his opposition to expanded gambling.

“The interesting thing to me … is that they aren’t saying it’s dead on arrival, and to me that is a sign that the Senate is willing to at least take a look at it.”

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