Kentucky Sports Betting Bill Gets Resounding Approval in the House

Grant Mitchell
By:
Grant Mitchell
03/15/2023
News
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Highlights

  • Several Republican gubernatorial candidates showed support for sports betting last week
  • The bill’s sponsor said that Kentucky locals are driving out of state to access gambling markets
  • The bill is expected to create an extra $23 million in tax funding

A bill that would legalize sports betting passed a vote in the Kentucky House with nearly two votes in support for every vote against.

HB551, sponsored by Rep. Michael Meredith (R-Oakland), passed 63-34. It would legalize sports betting at the state’s racetracks and would cost facilities $500,000 upfront and $50,000 every year. 

Kentucky has been grappling with the idea of creating a legal sports betting market ever since the 2018 PAPSA opened the door to gambling nationwide. 36 states and Washington D.C. have since made the change, but Kentucky has not been able to reach any agreements.

Making the rounds

Last week, three of four prominent Republican gubernatorial candidates present at a debate declared their support for sports betting. Incumbent Gov. and Democrat Andy Beshear is also a proponent of legal sports betting and would not impede such legislation passing.

The bill needs to pass through the senate before it can before any progress can start to be made, and that is a daunting prospect. The bill must receive three-fifths support to advance.

Republican Rep. Chris Fugate, a critic of sports betting, said that bill is not something “Kentucky can be proud of.”

Meredith countered by saying that eight of Kentucky’s nine neighboring states all offer legal sports betting, and that is driving people that would otherwise contribute to Kentucky’s economy to other markets.

“You literally just have to drive across the county line or cross the river to go take part in their programs,” said Meredith. “[The bill is] taking sports wagering in Kentucky out of the shadows, out of the darkness and moving it into the light.”

The only state bordering Kentucky that has not legalized sports betting is Missouri. Policymakers there are also being put under pressure from members of the state congress, lobbyists, and a coalition of owners and representatives of professional sports teams, including the Kansas City Chiefs, St. Louis Cardinals, and St. Louis Blues.

According to the terms of the bill, each racetrack would be allowed to partner with up to three online sportsbooks to help service their customers. Meredith estimates that his plan, if accepted in its current form, would create an extra $23 million in annual tax funding.

Swelling support

Another part of Meredith’s plea for his colleagues in the state congress to adopt the proposal is that illegal and offshore sportsbooks are reaping rewards that should be going to the state. That creates a greater problem for law enforcement and also harms the local economy.

Meredith also made a slight change to his bill from its previous form. Part of the proceeds from taxable revenue would go towards creating and maintaining programs for problem gamblers.

A couple of other bills addressing the topic of gaming have made their way through the state congress recently, including HB539, sponsored by Rep. Killian Timoney (R-Nicholasville), and HB594, also backed by Timoney.

Kentucky is home to one of the best events in sports, the Kentucky Derby. That’s why it’s so fitting that racetracks are set to become day stays for sports bettors if the bill is passed.

On top of that, the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville are two major betting attractions in the college ranks. They have 11 March Madness championships between them (Louisville’s 2013 title was rescinded).

One of the gubernatorial candidates present at last week’s debate, Somerset Mayor Alan Keck, referenced those two programs in declaring his support for sports betting legalization.

“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.”

The future of the bill will be determined by how it fares in the senate. The current legislative session will end on March 30.

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.