It took five years, but Kentucky state lawmakers have voted to bring legal sports betting to the Bluegrass State.
The legislation (House Bill 551) received final passage by a vote of 25-12 in the state Senate on Thursday, the last day of the legislative session, after passing the House by a super-majority vote of 63-34 on March 13. HB 551 was signed into law by Gov. Andy Beshear on Friday morning.
Kentucky sports betting is expected to go live by late 2023 under the legislation.
HB 551, sponsored by Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Oakland, will create up to 27 online sportsbooks tied to the state’s nine horse racing tracks with three skins (industry parlance for mobile sports betting apps) per track. Retail sportsbooks will also be allowed at the tracks, as well as at off-track betting sites through contracts with the tracks.
Sports betting in Kentucky will launch after regulations are finalized by regulators at the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. The legislation requires that sports wagering launch “within six months after the effective date” of the bill, which is 90 days from Thursday, the day the legislature adjourned.
That means Kentucky sports betting should be live by Dec. 31 of this year – well in advance of the 2024 Super Bowl. Betting will be allowed on professional and college sports, international events, and esports under the legislation.
Annual Kentucky Sports Betting Revenue Expected To Reach $23 Million
Annual state revenue from sports betting taxes is expected to reach $23 million – the majority of which will go to fund Kentucky’s public pension fund. Additionally, 2.5 percent of the revenue will fund gambling addiction programs. Costs of regulation by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission will also be covered by sports betting revenue.
State revenue will come from a 9.75 percent on retail bets and 14.25 percent on online bets. The state will also receive an initial $4.5 million in sports wagering licensing fees, should all nine tracks apply.
Annual renewal fees will net the state $450,000 a year at $50,000 per track.
One of the 25 senators voting in favor of the bill was Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown. He said he thinks the $23 million revenue figure is “low.”
Thayer compared the $23 million estimate to revenues generated in neighboring Tennessee, where sports betting brought $68 million to the state general fund in 2022. Tennessee has online sportsbooks only, Thayer said, while Kentucky will have online and retail books.
Senate Approval of Bill Exceeded Expectations
Thayer seemed eager to call the Senate vote. Bill sponsors and leadership had spent weeks rallying the 23 votes needed to pass the bill in the Senate under Kentucky rules requiring a three-fifths vote to pass revenue bills in odd-numbered years.
It ended up getting two more than the requisite number of Senate votes in the end.
“This issue enjoys widespread popularity,” Thayer said on the floor Thursday. “Sixty-eight percent of Kentuckians from all political parties support it,” he said. That number rises to 74 percent, he said, when folks realize state revenue from sports betting will support the public pension system, now heavily underfunded.
Bipartisan Vote, Different Viewpoints
One of the 12 senators who voted against the bill was Sen. Whitney Westerfield, a Republican Hopkinsville attorney who said sports betting will encourage gambling from those who can least afford it.
“You should vote no,” he said before the vote. “I don’t question there’s revenue there. (But) ask yourself how much money the people of Kentucky have to lose before we get that.”
He added that money going to sportsbook companies could instead go to local nonprofits or churches.
Louisville Democratic Senator Karen Berg, a physician, said that while Westerfield made some good points, she doesn’t “feel I was elected to be the morality police.” She voted yes.
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.