The list of legal Kentucky sportsbooks that will soon be open to 18-year-olds is growing. DraftKings and Bet365 announced last month that they will both have an age 18 minimum to use their online sportsbooks in the state. Then last week, Circa Sports confirmed with Gaming Today that its online Kentucky app will be available to bettors 18 and up.
It’s a move that’s a bit controversial. All top branded sportsbooks in the US — Caesars, FanDuel, BetMGM, and DraftKings, in most other jurisdictions — have an age 21 minimum to use their sportsbooks. The primary reason is all but a handful of states restrict sports betting to persons age 21 and older by law.
In Kentucky, 18 will be the minimum age to bet on sports when retail launches here on Thursday, Sept. 7 followed by a statewide online launch on Sept. 28.
But is allowing legal sports betting at age 18 in a college sports haven like Kentucky a bad idea — especially when recent surveys show risky sports betting among 16% of polled college students between the ages of 18 to 22?
Kentucky Council on Problem Gambling (KYCPG) Executive Director Michael Stone told Gaming Today that his agency doesn’t “make moral judgments” when asked about the decision of a few sportsbooks to allow 18-year-olds to use their products in the state. What he did say is that problem and addicted gambling have two risk factors: accessibility and availability.
“The existence of legal sportsbooks, and especially mobile sports betting, increases the risk factors,” Stone said in an email last week.
DraftKings Follows Age Restrictions of Each Jurisdiction: Senior VP
DraftKings Senior VP and Deputy General Counsel Griffin Finan stayed on the legal side of his company’s decision to grant bettors age 18 and up access to the DraftKings Kentucky app in a recent email to Gaming Today.
“DraftKings is committed to following the age restrictions set forth by each individual jurisdiction,” Finan said in a prepared statement.
Granted, it’s not the first time DraftKings has gone the route of an age 18 minimum for sports betting. The company also offers 18-year-olds access to its app in New Hampshire (retail and mobile), Wyoming (online), and on tribal lands in Washington State, all legal.
Bet365 and Circa are not now live in any states that allow sports betting below the age 21 minimum.
There’s no firm word yet on whether DraftKings and Churchill Downs Inc. retail partner Kambi will allow in-person sports betting in Kentucky.
BetMGM and Caesars, however, have already announced they will not allow anyone under 21 to use their retail or online sportsbooks in the Commonwealth. Neither sportsbook allows bettors under age 21 to access their sports betting offerings in Wyoming or the District of Columbia, which have an age 18 minimum.
Kentucky Is Aware of Gambling Risks, Sports Betting Popularity
In Kentucky, the KYCPG has been working to combat gambling addiction for at least 25 years. Over the last 20 years, the agency has worked to provide addiction awareness curricula with a problem gambling segment to Kentucky public middle and high schools, with support from the Kentucky Lottery. Stone told Gaming Today that state surveys show gambling among graduating Kentucky public high school seniors has been cut in half since the curriculum was introduced.
Which types of gambling have been targeted by that curriculum was not specified by Stone. Although legal sports betting is a fairly new concept outside Nevada, illegal sportsbooks without age restrictions have been accessible in the US long before legal sports betting took hold in 2018.
On the other hand, legal gambling on horses and the state lottery starting at age 18 has been allowed in Kentucky for decades, similar to most states.
Gaming Today asked Stone if sports betting, and legal sports betting for that matter, is any different than other types of gambling when it comes to addiction.
“There is no research indicating one form of gambling is more addictive than another,” Stone wrote in an email. “The analogy I have heard is that beer or whiskey both can lead to alcoholism. What is the drink you prefer? Same with gambling. What is the game you prefer? There is a history of illegal sports betting in Kentucky. How much impact will there be from transferring to legal sports betting? That is unknown.”
That doesn’t mean Kentucky is blind to sports betting’s popularity, especially among college-age students. Recent studies show sports betting among 18 to 22-year-olds in the US is on the rise.
Problem Gambling Expected to Rise with Legal Sports Betting Launch
According to a May 2023 NCAA survey of young adult bettors, sports betting is widespread among 18 to 22 years olds with “58% having engaged in at least one sports betting activity,” per the study.
“The NCAA continues to work with industry leaders, mental health experts, law enforcement and regulators, actively monitoring, researching and analyzing this landscape to devise effective ways to protect student-athlete well-being and minimize gambling harm,” the association announced in a press release in May.
Stone told Gaming Today that his agency anticipates an increase in problem and addicted gambling after the launch of legal sports betting in Kentucky this week. How much of an increase – and among which age groups – he could not say. Any KYCPG response will need evidence to back it up, he explained.
“KYCPG has no statistics and no research on how much (it) will increase,” Stone said in the email. “That it likely will increase is sufficient motivation for KYCPG to further awareness and encourage help opportunities.”
Kentuckians can definitely expect KYCPG to increase awareness of problem and addicted gambling behavior at colleges and universities, according to Stone. He said KYCPG and the state have access to evidence-based initiatives from Connecticut and other states that can be used to guide the creation of effective college-awareness programs in the Bluegrass State.
More Funding Key as Gambling Increases
To combat any increase in problem gambling, funding helps. Kentucky’s sports betting law allocates 2.5% of the state’s anticipated $23 million annual sports betting revenue to problem gambling assistance.
It’s a significant step for a state that has reportedly lagged in funding for gambling programming and, according to Stone, currently provides zero funding for gambling addiction treatment.
In his email to Gaming Today, Stone said expects the 2.5% allocation to help.
“KYCPG will welcome the infusion of public funds to address problem and addicted gambling sometime in 2024. It will take time for the bets to be placed and the accounting of the money leading to the transfer of the tax to the state,” he said
“It is likely there will be an increase in problem and addicted gambling, and the funds directed toward problem and addicted gambling services provide the opportunity to increase awareness of problem and addicted gambling warning signs and available assistance to deal with a problem,” according to Stone. “These factors combine to increase the likelihood that more problem and addicted gamblers will seek help.”
KYCPG Prepping for State Launch with Help of Media, Outreach Events
Kentucky sports betting will launch at up to 14 retail locations in each region of the state on Sept. 7. Mobile and online sports betting will launch up to seven licensed apps on Sept. 28. Those apps are BetMGM, Caesars, Circa Sports, DraftKings, Fanatics, FanDuel, and ESPN BET (PENN).
KYCPG right now is preparing for Kentucky’s sports betting launch on Sept. 7 with outreach events. According to Stone, the agency will also issue media advisories that list responsible gambling practices, problem gambling warning signs, and how to get help.
Anyone in Kentucky who needs help with a gambling problem or addiction can call or text 1-800-GAMBLER and speak with a trained counselor to receive help. KYCPG also provides a self-test for gambling issues, and a helpline chat link on its webpage, www.kygamblinghelp.org.