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Speedbumps In Kentucky’s Attempts At Legal Sports Betting


Bill HB 137, Kentucky's attempt to finally legalize sports betting in a state that hosts one of the biggest wagering days on the US sports betting calendar, the Kentucky Derby is experiencing some speedbumps despite widespread support from various sectors in the state. At this point, the bill is considered stalled thanks to politics, the rush to pass legislation and the seemingly tiny sense of urgency to get something done.

Governor Andy Beshear minced no words at a press conference Thursday when he said: “We have other states that aren’t just eating our lunch, they are serving our lunch and taking those dollars, too…Indiana sports betting spots were bustling this weekend. Lt. Governor Coleman also knows first-hand what we’re missing out on. She took a 15-minute drive across the Ohio River this last September, when a new sportsbook opened up for business, and this last Saturday when Lamar Jackson won the MVP, she won $95 on her $5 bet.”

Bill HB 137 would allow bets on all major sports including college games. Both brick-and-mortar betting and mobile wagering would be allowed under the bill.

All of those in favor…

It isn't just the Governor and his Democratic allies that are in favor of a legalized sports betting platform in the state. In a rare moment of consensus, some Republicans, reps from the education, police, firefighter, the state Chamber of Commerce and pension fund sectors have come out in support of a legal gambling platform.

Ashli Watts, president of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce went further saying that “I don’t know about you all, but I feel like I’ve been doing sports wagering for years… It’s called the Derby. This really is just an extension of our signature industry. … The passage of sports wagering would only continue to build upon this growth in the commonwealth.”

Politics, Politics

Bill HB 137 moved out of committee early last month and has passed in the House. The Senate is the stumbling block, specifically the Republicans in that Chamber although it seems that the momentum and the desire are there. Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer recently told the Louisville Courier-Journal that he “think(s) we’ve got the votes to pass it if it gets here anytime soon.”

The surrounding states of West Virginia and Indiana already sport successful betting platforms and Illinois, Missouri, Ohio, Virginia, and Tennessee are in various stages of welcoming legalized betting, making the urgency for a legal sports betting platform that much more tangible for lawmakers.

It all boils down to the Republican-controlled Senate in Kentucky and the ethics questions those lawmakers have identified as a major sticking point.

The benefits

The jury is still out on just how much money will be generated by legal sports gambling in the US. Rep. Adam Koenig, one of the true voices of the legal betting proponents and one of a few Republicans on board with the plan has thrown out a figure of $22.5 million per year in tax revenues for the state while Jason Bailey, executive director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy thinks $10 million per year is a more realistic number. That's based on a 9.75% tax of gross revenues on wagers placed in person and a 14.25% tax on online and mobile wagering.

Kentucky's education and pension funds stand to benefit the most from a legal sports betting platform. They are slated to suck up the majority of the tax revenues that will roll in from the legalized platform.

Everybody wins

Hesitation is understandable for Kentucky lawmakers but there are plenty of successful models to draw upon with 20 states presently accepting sports bets or in the process of launching legalized betting platforms. Those states have created jobs, they have taken away the black market and they have generated tax revenue for necessary programs for their states.

It’s only a matter of time for Kentucky. Delays in the legalization of sports betting are soon to be a thing of the past.