Historical horse racing is credited with saving Kentucky’s horse industry. Now, some wonder if newfound legislative support for HHR could translate into support for sports betting in the Bluegrass State.
Rep. Adam Koenig is one of them. The Northern Kentucky Republican and chair of the House Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee said this year’s passage of a law shoring up Kentucky’s HHR industry could signal a change in gambling views in Frankfort.
“We were looking at people losing their jobs immediately. Obviously, that isn’t the case with sports wagering. But there were several members who could have gone either way and voted yes, who received virtually no pushback,” Koenig said in an email to Gaming Today on Wednesday. “That should help those members and others vote their conscience” on sports betting.
Lawmakers added HHR to the state’s statutory definition of pari-mutuel wagering this year to avoid additional legal challenges to historical horse racing in Kentucky. The Kentucky Supreme Court in January declined to revisit a 2020 ruling challenging HHR’s legality, forcing tracks to shutter their HHR operations.
The HHR bill passed by a bipartisan vote of 55-38 in the state House of Representatives after clearing the Senate 22-15 just two days earlier. It was signed into law by Gov. Andy Beshear on Feb. 22.
Is Sports Betting A Stretch For This Horse State?
Florida, West Virginia, Maryland, and New York all have rich histories of horse racing and horse betting. All four also have legalized sports betting. Not so in Kentucky, where a taste for HHR hasn’t extended to legal sports betting — at least not among a majority of state lawmakers.
All of Koenig’s attempts to legalize sports betting in three of the last four years hit a wall.
The Erlanger lawmaker shelved a 2021 bill to focus on the HHR industry, but says he will be pushing for Kentucky sports betting again when the Kentucky General Assembly reconvenes in Jan. 2022.
That proposal will look similar to Koenig’s 2020 bill that would have legalized statewide mobile/online sports betting and retail sports betting at Kentucky’s horse tracks, the Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, or any other professional sports venue that may come down the pike. Legal DFS and online poker were also part of the bill.
Kentucky Sports Betting: How Would It Work?
Here’s how sports betting would have looked under Koenig’s 2020 proposal:
- Number of skins? One per track or professional sports venue for both retail and online sports betting
- Licensing fee: Initial $500,000, renewed annually at $50,000
- Tax: 9.75 percent retail; 14.75 percent mobile/online, with local taxation possible
- Registration: In-person up to a specific date, then downloadable directly for individuals age 18 and older
- Legal betting age: 18
Retail and online sports betting under Koenig’s 2020 bill would have drawn down an estimated $22.5 million in state revenue annually from legal betting on professional and college sports. Koenig expects about the same from his next proposal.
That’s much less than the $2.2 billion in gross gaming revenue that Kentucky averages each year from HHR. But it’s also money that the state — known for its public pension woes and education funding shortfalls — could really use.
Even so, Koenig says he’s reluctant to guess if sports betting will pass in 2022. “I really thought it would have passed by now,” Koenig told Gaming Today.
What Koenig will say is that he’s “optimistic.”
“Since we passed Historical Horse Racing this year, I am optimistic that many members are more open to the idea than they were previously,” he said.