HEBRON, Ky. – One week from today, on that very long walk from the arrivals gates at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport to the rental car counters, visitors will have plenty of time to download, fund, and begin using legal sports betting apps. Online and mobile sports betting will have come to Kentucky that day, two weeks after a small collection of retail outlets began accepting wagers around the state.
Maybe they’ll go right to the local teams on their app of choice as they wait for the Avis line to finally move. Whatever they do, they’ll help answer seven questions about Kentucky sports betting that begin forming answers in seven days.
- What sportsbook will win?: FanDuel has established itself as the national market-share leader, amassing around 45% of the national handle through May, according to Prospus Partners. But DraftKings has made in-roads recently, taking over as the top operator in August in New Jersey, Ohio and Massachusetts — its home state — after Prospus put them at 33% of national handle share this spring.
- Ohio influence: Speaking of which, how much influence will the state across the river exert, especially in Newport, Covington, Bellevue, and other Cincinnati suburbs? Certainly, many impending Kentucky sports bettors already have apps funded and well-used from their trips across the Taylor Southgate Bridge. That could also be good for regular Ohio podium-finisher BetMGM as it, like DraftKings and FanDuel, is licensed to take online bets in Kentucky next week. Ah, familiarity.
- Old college sigh: Kentucky intercollegiate sports teams matter greatly in the state. … They’ve had some scandals. … The advent and availability of legal sports betting in the United States has put students and student-athletes in positions to make mistakes in places like Iowa and shown that college administrations are not yet prepared. So far, these college betting scandals have involved athletes making bets they should not have made. There needs to be a dogged effort on campuses in Kentucky that the seemingly inevitable first exposed points-shaving scandal doesn’t happen there. The question is if they’re ready for it. So far, the indications have been disappointing.
- Will horse racing have sway?: Thoroughbred horse racing has long provided the grist for the main form of legalized gambling in Kentucky. Now Australian Rules Football and Formula 1 are on the menu, too. A history with horse racing brands in Kentucky could be a lure for sportsbooks affiliated with the likes of Churchill Downs (FanDuel), Keeneland (Caesars), and Revolutionary Racing (BetMGM). DraftKings has a deal with Churchill Downs to offer parimutuel wagering on its sportsbook app.
- Will horse players convert?: A PlayKentucky survey found that 77% of Kentuckians claimed they already bet on sports, in some fashion. That could have included DFS, illegal offshore or legal out-of-state sportsbooks, or parimutuel racing. 15% said they play the ponies and 13% bet on games. Whether the introduction of legal, mobile sports betting floats all riverboats will be telling. So too will be whether retail sportsbooks fare better in Kentucky than in most states because two major racetracks will have them and parimutuels are so ingrained. Gov. Andy Beshear announced this week that around $4.5 million had been wagered in the first two weeks of retail betting.
- How much will sports betting be worth to Kentucky?: Gaming Today projects that $2.3 billion in sports bets will be placed in the first 12 months, yielding $30 million in annual tax revenue. The general analog for this and other comparisons has been Louisiana because it has a similar population. Both states have popular SEC sports programs and while Kentucky has no major professional teams, the fervor over the Kentucky Wildcats basketball team and the proximity of Cincinnati and Tennessee big-four franchises would appear to keep the comparison fair. The difference could be out-of-staters. According to the Lousiana tourism board, $17.1 billion was spent by visitors in 2022. An independent study of the same year found that tourists left $8.9 billion in Kentucky. That’s actually closer than expected given not only Mardi Gras but the amount of championship sporting events contested at Caesars Superdome in New Orleans.
- What will the neighbors think?: Kentucky borders six states with legal online and mobile sports betting already underway. It has a major US city across the Ohio River (Cincinnati) and 12 of its most population-dense counties are nestled along the borders of either Ohio, Tennessee, Indiana, or Illinois. Some of those discretionary dollars figure to stay home now.