LEXINGTON, Ky. — Last Saturday, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear walked out of the rain into a crowd of sunny faces at West Sixth Brewing in Lexington. It was one of several stops on his three-day reelection campaign kickoff following his primary win last week, and a perfect chance to share his priorities – including sports betting.
The Democratic governor has continuously pushed for legislative passage of legal sports betting over the past three years. He wasted no time signing the state’s new sports betting bill into law on March 31 just hours after it received final passage in the Senate on March 30, the final day of the state’s 2023 regular legislative session.
According to the law, state gaming regulators at the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) will have exactly six months to launch retail and mobile sports betting through licensed horse racing tracks and their partners when the statute takes effect around June 28.
That puts a statewide sports betting launch on track by late December, but it could come sooner.
That’s according to Beshear’s Senior Advisor Rocky Adkins, who spoke with Gaming Today briefly on Saturday in Lexington. When asked if Kentucky sports betting could launch early in the 2023 NFL regular season, Adkins didn’t rule it out.
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Draft Regulations in the Works, KY Officials Say
Adkins, who served many years as Majority Floor Leader in the Kentucky House of Representatives before joining the Beshear administration in 2020, told Gaming Today that an early regular season launch is possible.
He wouldn’t commit to launch by the 2023 NFL kickoff game on Sept. 7, but hinted at a potential launch before December.
“We are putting a team together. Hopefully, we’ll be ready to go close to the start of football season,” said Adkins. “We’re working on it.”
According to a statement emailed to Gaming Today on behalf of KHRC Chair Jonathan Rabinowitz, the regulatory wheels are already in motion. Rabinowitz said that the KHRC has started drafting regulations and seeking advice from regulators in other states where sports betting has launched.
“The commission, along with members of the Public Protection Cabinet, has begun the process of drafting proposed regulations, meeting with officials in other states that recently have legalized sports wagering, and working with our licensed associations and potential service providers,” according to the statement from Rabinowitz. “The commission is excited for the opportunity afforded to it, and working tirelessly to craft clear, responsible, and thorough regulations for sports wagering in the commonwealth.”
Otherwise, the KHRC and PCC have said very little publicly about their regulatory plans. Sports betting has yet to appear on an agenda for the KHRC’s regularly-scheduled meetings, held only six times a year. No KHRC meeting will be held in May. There is a meeting scheduled for June, although that meeting agenda is not yet available.
Passage of KY Sports Betting Considered Major Victory
Kentucky sports betting passage this year was considered a major political victory because of Kentucky’s tough voting requirement to pass revenue bills in odd-numbered years. Bills raising revenue require at least three-fifths approval in both the Senate and House to pass the state’s legislature in odd-numbered years.
This year’s bill (HB 551) cleared that hurdle easily, first by a vote of 63-34 on March 13 in the House and then 25-12 on March 30 in the Senate. Beshear signed the bill into law the next day.
After final passage on March 30, the governor didn’t try to contain his excitement on Twitter:
Kentuckians will soon be able to place their bets here, and for the first time, we are going to keep those dollars to support our roads and bridges, schools and communities. ^ AB 2/2
— Governor Andy Beshear (@GovAndyBeshear) March 30, 2023
As many as 27 online sportsbooks tied to the state’s nine horse racing tracks, or three skins per track, are allowed under the new law. Retail sportsbooks will be allowed at the tracks and off-track betting sites through contracts with the tracks. Caesars announced last week that it has signed on as an official mobile sports betting partner for Keeneland Race Course and Red Mile Racing and Gaming in Lexington, with a permanent retail sportsbook also planned for the Red Mile.
Annual Kentucky state revenue from sports betting is expected to reach $23 million – the majority of which will go to fund Kentucky’s public pensions. Additionally, 2.5 percent of the revenue will fund gambling addiction programs.