Legal sports betting has received a thumbs-up from the Kentucky House of Representatives, passing the chamber by a 63-34 vote on Monday.
It is a win for this year’s proposed retail and mobile sports betting bill (HB 551) and its lead sponsor Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Oakland, who is carrying the legislation for the first time. But the bill still has further to go before Meredith can declare victory.
The legislation must now make it through the state Senate, where its chance at passage is less certain.
This is the second year in a row that legislation to legalize sports betting has passed the Kentucky House. A similar bill passed by a narrower margin of 58-30 in 2022.
No sports betting bill has ever passed the Kentucky Senate.
HB 551 would allow up to 27 licensed mobile sportsbooks and nine retail sportsbooks through Kentucky’s nine horse racing tracks, including Churchill Downs and Keeneland.
It would also allow horse racing simulcast facilities or OTBs to contract with tracks to offer retail sports betting. Bets would be allowed on professional and college sports, international events, and esports under the proposal.
Will HB 551 Have the Senate Votes?
The biggest challenge to HB 551 in the Senate may be the required number of votes to pass any bill raising revenue in an odd-numbered year.
Because HB 551 would raise state revenue through sports betting licensing and taxation, legislative rules require that it receive at least three-fifths approval of both chambers to make it to Gov. Andy Beshear this year. That threshold is 23 votes in the 38-member Senate. It was 60 votes in the 100-member House.
But the Kentucky Senate has traditionally been less receptive to legal sports betting than the House, with proposals passing in neither Senate committee nor on the Senate floor. It was in a Senate committee where a Kentucky sports betting bill died in 2022.
Meredith said Monday that Kentucky will generate an estimated $23 million annually from legal sports betting under a proposed 9.75 percent retail tax and 14.25 percent mobile tax in HB 551.
Opposition Remains to Legal Sports Betting in Kentucky
Much of the opposition to sports betting proposals in Kentucky has been from religious organizations, including the Family Foundation, which testified against the bill in committee last week. Other arguments have been mostly economic.
Meredith addressed some economic concerns by earmarking 2.5 percent of proceeds to fund problem gambling services. Other proceeds from sports betting under the bill would go to the state’s permanent pension fund and regulatory costs.
But some lawmakers still didn’t feel HB 551 was a good bet for their constituents. Rep. Josh Calloway, R-Irvington, said he remains opposed to expanded gambling despite attempts to make it more palatable for lawmakers.
“A lot of times when we have discussions around gambling and gaming, it’s about revenue,” said Calloway. “It’s an irresponsible way to drive revenue in our state.”
HB 551 could be assigned to committee in the Senate as early as Tuesday. The last week of the current legislative session of the Kentucky General Assembly begins March 27.