Kentucky Republican Gubernatorial Candidates Show Support for Sports Betting

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  • One candidate called it “hypocritical” the state celebrates the Kentucky Derby but doesn’t allow sports betting
  • Several candidates also spoke on the dangers of skill games and casinos
  • A sports betting bill is currently making its rounds in the state congress

Three main Republican gubernatorial candidates in Kentucky said they would support varying degrees of sports betting during a Tuesday debate in Louisville.

Three figures in question are Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, and Somerset Mayor Alan Keck. All agreed that sports betting’s increasing popularity has led to the rise of illegal gambling markets that the state should take control over.

Auditor Mike Harmon, the fourth and final candidate on hand for the debate, said that he opposed sports betting in all forms. Harmon is receiving the least support of the four at the polls.

Hearing from the candidates

There are 12 candidates in the primary election but only the four mentioned attended the debate. Kelly Craft, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was also invited but did not appear.

Keck showed the most support for sports betting despite two of his colleagues also calling for a legalized market.

“To me, it is hypocritical at best, egregious at worst, that we can celebrate the Derby [without a sports betting market], which I do,” said Keck. “And we can fund education through the lottery, which I think is tremendous, and you can’t put five bucks on UK-Louisville.” 

Keck also praised the sports betting bill introduced by Rep. Michael Meredith (R-Oakland) but said that he was warier of legalizing casinos as they could cause more noticeable harm to Kentucky residents. His main concern is that the odds of winning are unknown, unlike systems used in fixed-odds sports betting or the lottery. 

“We got to be careful they don’t turn into black holes,” he said. 

Cameron was more reserved on the matter but did say the work done by the General Assembly, as it pertains to dealing with skill games, was “appropriate.”

House Bill 539, sponsored by Rep. Killian Timoney (R-Nicholasville) was read in the House Tuesday. If passed, it would ban skill machines in Kentucky. House Bill 594, also supported by Timoney, was previously tabled but could resurface as debates over skill games rage on.

Quarles also contested the availability of skill games and put Cameron under the spotlight in questioning why they were popping up at so many convenience stores and gas stations. 

“I sometimes wonder why the attorney general has not looked into the legality of these right now, over the past year since it’s proliferated,” said Quarles. “And now the General Assembly’s caught in the quandary because now there are over 10,000 of these machines in Kentucky.”

Prevailing opinions

A 2022 poll showed that a majority of republican voters supported the idea of sports betting. That hurts Harmon but gives the other three candidates present at the debate a boost.

There is no minimum vote requirement in Kentucky, meaning that there is no scenario in which a run-off happens. Whoever gets the most votes will advance as the nominee from the Republican party to almost certainly contest incumbent Democrat Andy Beshear for the governorship.

Harmon noted that, if he were to veto any sports betting legislation, he could be overridden by a majority vote in the General Assembly. 

The idea of legalizing sports betting in Kentucky has been bubbling and is now a very hot topic. The state is home to the Kentucky Derby, one of the most famous sports events in America, and has a prominent college basketball team in the University of Kentucky preparing for March Madness. 

Meredith’s bill, if passed, would give the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission the authority to regulate sports betting at retail locations at the state’s nine racetracks. Each location would be able to partner with up to three online sportsbooks.

The House Licensing, Occupations, and Administrative Regulations Committee is hearing the bill Wednesday and is expected to pass it onto the House floor. Once there, it needs a three-fifths vote (60 of 100 members) to advance to the Senate, where it would then need 23 of 37 votes.

Beshear, notably, is also a strong proponent of legal sports betting. If the bill were to come before him before the race against the Republican nominee, he would almost assuredly sign off on it.

Grant is a sports and sports betting journalist who prides himself in his up-to-the-minute reporting on the latest events in the industry. A member of Virginia Tech’s 2021 graduating class, he has quickly put together an impressive portfolio since moving to the professional world full-time. Grant’s favorite sports to cover are basketball and both types of football (American and soccer), and he is pushing written, audio, and video content. He has been employed by companies as highly regarded as Forbes and continues on a great trajectory in the industry. When he’s not on the clock, you can find Grant at the gym, looking for adventures, or hanging out with his family.