Since the US Supreme Court ended the federal ban on sports betting over three years ago, the United States has seen a boom in the world of props, parlays and pick-ems.
As of March 2022, 30 states and the District of Columbia have “live and legal” sports betting laws. Hopes are growing in the Commonwealth that Kentucky could become the No. 31 state.
HB606, a bill that would legalize retail and online sports betting, passed the Kentucky House of Representatives on March 18 by a vote of 58 to 30. It is the furthest that betting-related legislation has achieved in the state. The bill would also legalize daily fantasy sports and online poker.
It is currently legal to gamble on horses in Kentucky thanks to pari-mutuel betting, which differs from other forms of sports betting in that the bettor places bets against other bettors, not a sports bettor or bookmaker. Aside from trying their luck at Keeneland or Churchill Downs or playing the lottery, Kentuckians can’t gamble.
Republican State Representative Adam Koenig is sponsoring the bill, which has the backing of Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer. Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear has also pushed for the legalization of sports betting.
The bill would set a tax rate of 9.75% for long-distance bets and 14.25% for in-person bets. HB 606 was read to the Senate, taking the next step in getting the bill to a vote.
There is currently a 10-day veto period, lasting until April 12, during which the General Assembly cannot touch the bill, allowing the governor to either push through or delay the bill. The Kentucky legislature runs through April 14, leaving a tight two-day window for passage of the bill after the veto period expires.
If the law were passed, racecourses would be able to open retail stores and work with online and mobile providers. There is no better place on earth for sports betting and horse racing than Kentucky. No sport is more synonymous with place than racehorses in bluegrass. Sportsbooks would pay companies like Keeneland an outrageous sum of money to work with them.
Additionally, surrounding states where sports betting is legal siphon Kentuckians’ money from the state. Five of the seven states that border Kentucky allow sports betting, with Ohio set to become sixth this year.
Casinos and a sports book greet you as soon as you cross the bridge into Indiana. Caesar’s Southern Indiana is just a few hundred yards across the Ohio River. Head south for businesses like Kentucky State Line Bingo on the Tennessee border.
Those Kentucky dollars that could be used for education, road construction and Medicaid instead see state tax revenues go to the next state, and it’s no small amount of money. US revenue from commercial gambling reached $4.50 billion in January 2022. according to the American Gaming Association. It’s an ever-growing market that would benefit both parties if Kentucky chose to participate.
Simply put, Kentucky is missing out on a lucrative business that would excel in the state.
Horses aside, Big Blue Nation wouldn’t hesitate to place a bet or two on the Wildcats covering a three-point spread against Tennessee. Although Kentucky doesn’t have any professional teams in the state, it is sports-loving and rich in collegiate-level talent, and schools like the UK and Louisville have the fan bases to support this.
Sports betting would be a successful endeavor in Kentucky and now is the time to legalize it. Thayer has noted that the Senate will not be an easy group to move, even calling the bill a “long-term” passage.
If HB 606 can’t weave its way through the Senate this year, it likely won’t have a chance to do so until 2024. Sessions held in odd years require a three-fifths shorter 30-day period due to the crowd, meaning the law would face even more difficulty getting passed in 2023.
The sports betting market has been on a steep rise in recent years and there are no signs that it will stop any time soon. Over half the country has now legalized it, leaving Kentucky in the minority despite being home to possibly the most profitable sport to gamble on.
If the Kentucky Senate prevails again, it will be a sad reminder that the Commonwealth is deadlocked, led by rural Republican senators whose deep-seated beliefs continue to hold back the state they govern.
The call to post is fast approaching, but the bluegrass state has yet to make it to the track. Time will tell if Kentucky can make it to the starting gate or if they’ll be content to watch the sports betting race again for paddock earnings.