The second part of the 2023 regular legislative session started Tuesday in Kentucky. A renewed push to legalize sports betting in the Bluegrass State comes with it.
Officially filed on Jan. 5, this session’s retail and mobile sports betting bill (HB 106), sponsored by House Minority Floor Leader Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, could be assigned to committee this week. It has until March 15 to pass through the House and Senate before lawmakers begin wrapping up this year’s regular legislative session.
The legislation would tether sports betting to the state’s horse racetracks, with one sportsbook allowed per track for retail and mobile betting for an initial licensing fee of $500,000 and an annual renewal fee of $50,000. Betting would be allowed on professional sports, college sports (including the University of Kentucky), and international events like the World Cup.
Fantasy sports and online poker would also be legalized under HB 106.
But HB 106 faces a rough road to passage. Kentucky has a one-party legislature run by Republicans. Graham is a Democrat. That puts the chance of any bill he sponsors at a disadvantage, since Republicans run the committee system.
Potholes Along the Road to Legal Kentucky Sports Betting
Another pothole toward legal sports betting in Kentucky is a legislative requirement that any bill raising revenue in odd-numbered year sessions receive three-fifths support of each chamber (60 House votes and 23 Senate).
Add the state’s urban-rural ideological divide – and less-than-favorable views about gambling in many conservative districts – and the road is even rougher.
But the legislation does have a chance. Lawmakers still have plenty of time to vote on the bill before the session ends on March 30. Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, has indicated he will sign the bill if it makes it to his desk.
By some estimates, sports betting is expected to create at least $22 million in annual tax revenue for the Bluegrass State.
Kentucky: One of the Last Lower Midwest Holdouts
Kentucky is one of the last sports betting holdouts in the lower Midwest. Any ground gained annually in the battle for legalization in the commonwealth always seems lost by year’s end.
Rep. Adam Koenig led the charge for four years. In 2022, he succeeded in getting a bill through the House that would have legalized retail and mobile sports betting tied to the state’s horse racetracks. The vote was 58-30.
The Senate was a less friendly landscape for Koenig’s legislation. It went into committee and never left, despite a last-minute committee reassignment late in the session.
Koenig – who had served 15 years in the Kentucky House of Representatives – lost his primary bid for reelection just two months later.
Pressure Mounts As More States Come OnLine
Shortly after his election defeat, Koenig suggested Kentuckians’ sports betting dollars were flowing into neighboring states
“My guess is that Kentucky money is keeping Indiana in the top 10 (of US sports betting markets). Maybe in the top 15,” Koenig tweeted.
Now neighboring Ohio is adding to the competition. The geolocation tracking firm GeoComply recorded 11.3 million geolocation transactions with Ohio sportsbooks on the state’s launch weekend starting Jan. 1, 2023. The “busiest city,” according to the firm, was Cincinnati with 1.89 million transactions. Cincinnati is a bridge length from Kentucky, across the Ohio River.
The only state surrounding Kentucky that hasn’t legalized sports betting is Missouri. That could happen this spring.