KY Sports Betting Bill May Pass The House This Week

Written By Matthew Kredell on March 16, 2022 - Last Updated on July 27, 2023
Kentucky sports betting bill closer to passing

After years of struggle and months of procrastination, Kentucky sports betting legislation had an easy day in committee Wednesday.

House Bill 606 legalizing sports betting, online poker and daily fantasy sports advanced unanimously without any proposed amendments.

Now Kentucky Rep. Adam Koenig tells PlayKentucky that sports wagering could pass the House by the end of the week.

After three years, Koenig believes he finally has enough Republican caucus support to call the bill for a vote on the House floor. However, he thought the same when advancing the bill through committee in 2020 only to have lobbying from religious organizations change the minds of some of his Republican colleagues.

“Hopefully we’re on the floor this week,” Koenig said. “We’ll see if we can pull that off.”

Also approved in the House Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee, chaired by Koenig, were bills to modernize parimutuel wagering, earmark money toward a problem gambling fund and ban gray machines.

No testimony needed in support of sports wagering

Koenig spoke to committee members for less than a minute to introduce the bill. He pointed out that 33 other states and the District of Columbia have legalized sports wagering.

“As longtime members of this committee know, we’ve passed it out of this committee a few times in the past,” Koenig said. “And I think we’re in position to hopefully have better luck going forward out of this committee.”

No witnesses spoke in favor of the legislation, though industry representatives surely were willing.

During the vote, Rep. Jerry Miller said he’s polled his constituents on sports wagering and 73% favor legalization. That’s similar to statewide polling of Kentucky voters.

Rep. Al Gentry, the gambling industry champion in the state, spoke in favor of the bill:

I think we have the ability to make the decisions for ourselves. People who bet on sports, for the most part, already do it. And the worst thing about it is when you bet on credit, and that’s illegal betting. We’re going to regulate that and we’re going to end that, and we’re going to do what the majority of states in the United States already have, which is legalized and regulated sports wagering.

Usual opponents argue against ‘predatory’ gambling

Speaking against the bill was David Walls of the Family Foundation of Kentucky.

Walls continuously referred to sports wagering as predatory gambling.

“Predatory gambling, especially in the expansive form that is being considered this morning in HB 606, is not a victimless form of entertainment or competition. That’s simply the truth, and it’s a harsh reality. This type of predatory gambling is designed to play on human weakness, with the government colluding with the gambling industry to exploit our fellow Kentuckians.”

He questioned doing another expansion of gambling a year after the legislature passed historical horse racing legislation. And he argued that legalizing sports betting will lead to broken families, increased divorce and additional societal costs.

“It is an industry designed not to create wealth but to simply transfer wealth, primarily from the poor to the wealthy,” Walls said. “Government-promoted and privileged gambling, including sports wagering, will only further impoverish Kentucky’s poor by taking money from families and shifting it to the gambling industry.”

Koenig rebutted these arguments he hears whenever the committee considers a gambling bill.

“You hear about, on many of these bills, the parade of horribles that will occur if passed,” Koenig said. “And, well, I think most of the time if not all of the time those parade of horribles never show up.”

Koenig added that there are societal costs to gambling, but they already exist in the unregulated market.

“There’s billions being wagered currently, legally, in this state on various forms of gaming. According to the American Gaming Association, there’s $2 billion wagered illegally on sports in Kentucky every year. And I think it’s important to bring those people out of the shadows, to drive away the black market, and make sure the people of this state have the benefits of their government protecting them.”

Other gaming bills advanced by committee

The bill to modernize parimutuel wagering also passed unanimously.

Koenig made a presentation explaining HB 607, which did include an amendment. The bill would:

  • Tax every parimutuel wager at 1.5% of gross amount wagered.
  • Change the distribution of live racing and historical horse racing taxes so more money goes into the general fund.
  • Direct funds to University of Kentucky and community college equine programs.
  • Eliminate the 15-cent admission tax paid by racetracks for each patron.
  • Allow Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund money to go to Kentucky-bred horses in claiming races.
  • Eliminate breakage.

Koenig explained payouts on horse racing bets currently round down to every 20 cents. For example, a winning bet of $7.92 pays $7.80. By eliminating breakage, Kentucky bettors get paid down to the penny.

“It’s my view that that is the bettor’s money, and I’ve been very interested after last year’s HHR debate in making sure the bettors are taken care of,” Koenig said. “In addition to taking care of the bettors, it will make Kentucky the place in North America to wager. If you’re someone who wagers a lot of money, do it for a living, do it for entertainment, whatever it is, why would you bet anyplace else?”

Problem gambling takes center stage

With it being National Problem Gambling Awareness Month, Koenig appropriately noted that Kentucky doesn’t do enough to address responsible gaming issues in the state.

He wants to change that with HB 609. The bill directs an unprecedented large sum of money into the Kentucky Problem Gambling Assistance Fund.

The $225 million comes from settlement money paid last September by Flutter Entertaintment, parent company of PokerStars, for operating online poker in Kentucky without authorization.

“If this passes in its current form, and if managed properly, it should take care of Kentucky’s needs in this regard maybe in perpetuity,” Koenig said. “If not, it will be hundreds of years.”

An appointee from the House and Senate would provide legislative oversight on distributions from the fund.

Bill to ban gray machines debated

After the other bills passed easily, HB 608 from Rep. Killion Timoney faced more opposition and received a mixed vote to advance to the floor.

In recent years, slot-like gray machines have become prevalent in Kentucky convenience stores.

A representative of the Kentucky Lottery contended that the state could lose almost $60 million in annual lottery sales if gray machines proliferate across the state.

Former Kentucky Rep. Bob Heleringer advocated for the “skill-game” industry. He noted that the lottery saw 9% year-over-year growth despite the presence of the gray machines.

Rather than face a ban, they proposed Kentucky regulate the industry with an amendment offered by Rep. Kim Banta. In the amendment, they would pay a 15% tax into a first responders professional development fund.

“I’m unaware of too many businesses that come here and say please regulate us, please license us and please tax us,” Heleringer said. “Well, that’s what the committee sub does. It doesn’t run out a legitimate business in this state that has come in here and invested in businesses all over this state.”

The committee voted down the sub. However, there was dissent in moving forward the ban bill, and a lot of committee members passed on voting.

Gentry explained why he voted against the amendment to regulate the gray games but did not support the ban bill.

“My no vote on 608 is for legalizing and regulating and taxing this industry, but we need to do it the right way, and it needs to take some time. I would hope that my colleagues would help stop this bill on the floor and look to regulate this industry in the future in a logical way that doesn’t harm as many people as it might.”

Update: At the end of March 2023, Kentucky officially embraced legal sports betting. Check out the link to discover the range of Kentucky sportsbook promos that now await state bettors once the industry launches, including competitive offers from top betting platforms like Bet365 Sportsbook KY and DraftKings KY Sportsbook.

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Matthew Kredell

Matthew has covered efforts to legalize and regulate online gambling since 2007. His reporting on the legalization of sports betting began in 2010 with an article for Playboy Magazine on how the NFL was pushing US money overseas by fighting the expansion of regulated sports betting. A USC journalism alum, Matt started his career as a sportswriter at the Los Angeles Daily News and has written on a variety of topics for Playboy, Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and

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