There’s one question on the minds of Kentuckians: Will Kentucky sports betting move ahead in the legislature with the passage of bill HB606?
The answer depends on who you talk to. And one citizen’s advocacy group is doing what they can to make the answer “yes.”
After making it out of committee, sports betting bill HB606 recently cleared the House in a vote of 58-30. Twelve House members opted out of the vote.
And with that, the Kentucky sports betting bill is off to the Senate.
Passage of the bill would legalize:
- online and retail sports betting
- daily fantasy sports
- online poker
Rep. Adam Koenig (R-Erlanger) has propelled the effort to get sports betting legalized in the state all along. And although he said recently that, “It’s difficult to get gaming bills passed in Kentucky,” HB606 successfully clearing the House seems to have boosted his optimism.
This is the farthest a Kentucky sports betting bill has ever gotten, prompting him to say:
“I’m excited and looking forward to seeing what my fate is in the Senate.”
Thayer not so sure Senate will follow the leader
On the other hand, there is the cautionary opinion of Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer.
Thayer has strongly supported sports betting but told WLKY that “it’s an uphill battle in the Senate,” noting “an awful lot of anti-betting sentiment in this building.” He added:
“I’m not sure I can overcome the opposition to it to get it passed.”
Thayer can not guarantee the committee will hear the sports betting bill. And if it does, it might not make it to the Senate floor, he said.
The next steps in the Senate will be key to what happens with this bill and whether it gets approved.
Standard arguments for sports betting in Kentucky
In many states where sports betting has been on the table, arguments tend to break down into these two camps:
- People spend money on wagering anyway, and having to do it elsewhere keeps tax benefits from going to their home state. Koenig has estimated that more than $2 billion gets illegally gambled on sports annually. And he projected a possible $20+ million in Kentucky sports betting tax revenue if people could gamble legally in the state.
- Social costs such as addiction, financial ruin and family disruption need to be considered. Coincidentally, March is National Problem Gambling Month, so the cancer of problem gambling in KY is in focus at the moment.
Koenig has countered the latter argument, saying he thinks “most of the time, those parade of horribles (sic) never show up.” He has pointed out that 33 other states, along with D.C., now have legal sports betting.
Rep. Jerry Miller noted that 73% of his constituents favor making the activity lawful.
But in a stark statement from the other side, David Walls of the Family Foundation of Kentucky has said that:
“It is an industry not designed to create wealth but to simply transfer wealth, primarily from the poor to the wealthy.”
On Tuesday, the grassroots nonprofit Kentucky Equine Education Project (KEEP) launched a citizen advocacy campaign supporting the Senate passage of HB606.
A statement issued by KEEP asserts that sports gambling legislation:
“protects the role of Kentucky’s signature industry in the landscape of wagering options and provides additional revenue for the state.”
KEEP believes legalization will bring new revenue sources to the industry and engage new fans who might attend events in person at Kentucky’s tracks.
HB606 would let each of the five thoroughbred and two harness racing tracks, all licensed, offer sports betting at up to two facilities. The second facility has to be within 60 miles of the licensee’s track, and at least 60 miles away from any other track.
Plus, each licensed racetrack may partner with one online sports gambling platform.
Current Kentucky racetracks include:
- Churchill Downs in Louisville
- Keeneland Race Course in Lexington
- Ellis Park in Henderson
- Kentucky Downs in Franklin
- Turfway Park in Florence
- Red Mile Racetrack in Lexington
- Oak Grove Racing in Oak Grove
Harness-racing track Cumberland Run in Corbin is expected to open this fall.
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