Kentucky Sports Betting Bill Dies In State Senate

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The bid to legalize sports betting in Kentucky is dead for at least one more year. 

Supporters were hopeful this year’s sports betting legalization proposal in House Bill 606 would come to a vote after the bill was moved to the Senate Economic Development, Tourism, and Labor Committee on Wednesday. The committee was considered to be more hospitable to the legislation than the Senate Licensing and Occupations Committee, where HB 606 had languished for weeks. 

But a Senate committee vote on HB 606 never came before the Senate adjourned for the session around 9:30 p.m. on Thursday. Neither did a vote in the full Senate. 

That eliminates any chance at passage of HB 606 this year. Kentucky bills do not carry over from year to year (or session to session) as bills do in some other states. And Governor Andy Beshear is unlikely at this point to call a special session on the issue. 

The next best chance for passage of legal sports betting in Kentucky is in 2024. 

Why Did Sports Betting Fail In Kentucky? 

The bipartisan sports betting proposal, sponsored by Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, and Rep. Alan Gentry, D-Louisville, arrived in the Senate last month after passing the House 58-30 on March 18. 

The bill would have allowed the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to regulate sports betting tied to the state’s horse racetracks, including Churchill Downs and Keeneland. State revenue based on tax and licensing of retail and online sports wagering would have, at least in part, benefited the state’s troubled public pension trust fund. 

But pushback against the bill by the Family Foundation of Kentucky and similar anti-gambling groups were apparently too much for supporters to overcome, both in committee and on the Senate floor. 

“We just don’t have the votes,” said Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, a Georgetown Republican who championed HB 606 in the Senate. 

Governor Points At Thayer For HB 606’s Demise

At his daily press conference, Beshear blamed Thayer for the failure to pass legal sports betting this year. 

“My thought is if Damon Thayer wanted sports betting to pass, he’d get it passed. It’s time. The people of Kentucky absolutely want this,” said Beshear. “It’s time we join the modern world, and if they’ll pass it, it’ll become law.” 

Beshear said in recent months he was willing to sign any sports betting legislation sent to him this year.

The remark drew a response from Thayer, a longtime horse industry supporter who has joined Koenig and many others – including Beshear and officials at the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce – as a vocal supporter of legalized sports betting in Kentucky.

It was reportedly Thayer who had HB 606 reassigned from Sen. John Schickel’s (R-Union) committee to Sen. Wil Schroder’s (R-Wilder) Economic Development Committee, where the bill was assumed to have more member support.

Better Chance After 2022 State Elections? 

Thayer said Thursday sports betting legalization in Kentucky has a better chance at passage after the 2022 state elections, when at least half the Senate and all House seats are up for reelection. 

It’s uncertain if the support will be enough for the bill to pass in 2023, however, when a three-fifths constitutional rule for passage will require at least 60 votes for the bill to pass the House. 

In the Senate, passage will take at least 23 votes. 

Koenig Comments On HB 606 

Talking to reporters at the Capitol, Koenig said his bill is dead this year based on Thayer’s comments. But it’s not an easy thing for the Northern Kentucky state lawmaker to accept. 

Koenig, after all, told Gaming Today on March 29 that he was holding out hope for passage until the last minute of the 2022 session. There was still a glimmer of that hope in his comments before final adjournment Thursday.  

“Given what (Thayer) just said, I’d say it’s dead. But crazier things have happened,” Koenig said

About the Author
Rebecca Hanchett

Rebecca Hanchett

Writer and Contributor
Rebecca Hanchett is a political writer based in Kentucky's Bluegrass region who covers legislative developments at Gaming Today. She worked as a public affairs specialist for 23 years at the Kentucky State Capitol. A University of Kentucky grad, she has been known to watch UK basketball from time to time.

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