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Kentucky Folds Their 2020 Legal Sports Betting Aspirations


There were high hopes for the US legal sports betting industry for 2020 but COVID-19 has thrown everything out of whack including how much/how little individual state legislators are willing to consider wagering platforms in their state. The latest state to brush legal sports betting aside for 2020 is Kentucky, who passed their budget Wednesday without any mention of the tax revenue expected to be generated by a wagering platform.

The Kentucky state "streamlined" and "pessimistic" budget was quickly passed, unanimously 34-0 in the Senate and then passed 80-10 in the House. Lawmakers were clearly in a rush to pass what is essentially "status-quo spending" with little change and little new as the state navigates what is certain to be an extremely tough time. Sports betting seems to be taking a back-seat in the US at the moment to the surprise of absolutely nobody.

Representative Adam Koenig recently said of sports betting: “I think we’re looking at a dead bill this year and come back next year. I may not leave this place until they pass it, so if they want to get rid of me, they better hurry up. Getting rid of me might motivate some.” On the bright side for gambling supporters, Kentucky's one-year budget plan is a switch from their regular two-year one. That makes the possibility of revisiting the platform a reality for next year.

The Appetite in Kentucky

Kentucky is a state that doesn’t have, nor has it ever had even one retail casino – not one, although horse racing wagers have been accepted for years. Hence the excitement for its citizens to be able to finally bet on the sports they love. It was of Democratic Governor Andy Beshear and Republican representative Adam Koenig that got the ball rolling in Kentucky – rare bipartisan agreement that a legal betting platform would be good for the state.

There had been some recent pre-COVID polling in Kentucky that showed an appetite for a legal betting platform. As home of the Kentucky Derby, which is traditionally one of the more bet-on sporting events annually across the US, Kentucky had been looking for a slice of the full legal betting pie, before COVID-19 forced lawmakers to change legislative course.

Opposition came in the form of conservative and religious groups in Kentucky. Their opposition came as no shock as they have traditionally been against any form of legal gambling in the state. It was the Family Foundation of Kentucky and their lobbying effort that ultimately stopped the Senate from calling a vote on the bill, effectively ending its chances of passing this year.

Kentucky Losing Out

Sports betting platforms have been popping up all around Kentucky. Neighboring states with legalized betting platforms already include Indiana and West Virginia. Illinois recently came online with its own sports betting platform and Virginia and Tennessee have approved sports betting legislation. Missouri and Ohio are currently in various stages of debating the merits of their own form of legalized sports betting, leaving Kentucky as the only one in the area with a "hard NO" on legal sports wagers.

“I am tired of trailing other states,” Governor Andy Beshear back in February. “It’s time that we get into this game and we make sure that we are keeping these dollars at home.” He went on to say in a tweet dated February 2: "Kentuckians are crossing the river into Indiana, some for the entire weekend, to bet on the #SuperBowl, pack into their hotels and enjoy local restaurants. We should pass sports betting so we can keep their money here and fund our needs in Kentucky".

There is always 2021

The votes in Congress and the appetite among Kentucky citizens seem to be there, making 2021 a real possibility for the approval of legal sports betting in the state. Earlier this year, there seemed a good chance that sports betting would be legalized in the state but unforeseen circumstances and a time-crunch for legislators got in the way.

You can bet that those in favor learned a thing or two from their 2020 efforts and won’t make the same mistakes in 2021.