Kentucky will allow legal sports betting starting at the age of 18 when the state launches retail and mobile sportsbooks in September. For most states, the sports betting age threshold is 21. That has Kentucky’s minimum age of 18 raising some concerns – but should it?
State Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Oakland, doesn’t think so. The sponsor of the Commonwealth’s 2023 sports betting law justified the age 18 betting minimum in that legislation at the official signing of Kentucky sports betting regulations on July 10.
Retail will launch in Kentucky on Sept. 7, with mobile sports betting to follow on Sept. 28.
“It’s consistent with all of our other gaming laws in Kentucky,” Meredith said. “Several of our HHR (historical horse racing) facilities have self-regulated to 21, but the statute says 18. You can buy lottery tickets in Kentucky at 18, too.” HHR machines are slot-like machines based on previously-run horse races.
But criticisms remain. Although most states allow horse race betting and playing the lottery starting at 18, more than 30 of the nearly 39 states with legal sports betting have made age 21 the legal age limit to sports bet. Only seven states plus the District of Columbia allow sports betting starting at age 18, according to data from the American Gaming Association.
Kentucky, at least, seems confident that its sports betting law – including the minimum age – is a good one. The state’s nine horse racing tracks are eligible for sports betting licenses, and many expected to limit retail sports betting to 21 and over. State regulations spell out responsible gambling and advertising rules intended to keep bettors safe.
Diving Into Kentucky’s Responsible Gaming & Advertising Regulations
At issue is problem gambling research that indicates a rise in gambling among young people, specifically among males ages 18 to 24. But that range encompasses the age 21-plus sports betting population, too.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (pictured right) said he has confidence in the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to implement sports betting responsibly. The governor served as the state’s chief consumer protection official during his role as Kentucky Attorney General from 2016 to 2019.
“The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has a long history of regulatory wagering in Kentucky, and I have all confidence in their ability to regulate sports wagering,” the governor said as he signed off on the commission’s regulations at the Red Mile racetrack on July 10.
Kentucky RG & Marketing Regulations
Kentucky’s rules for self-exclusion from sports wagering, advertising, and marketing are clear about what is required and what is prohibited, including:
- Self-exclusion lists for those who self-identify as problem gamblers must be developed by each sportsbook operator and approved by the KHRC
- Tracks licensed to operate sports betting “shall display a notice to the public of the existence of the self-exclusion list and the method or methods individuals may use to self-identify” at the track, online, or by phone
- Each track shall develop a responsible gambling program for approval by the KHRC. A toll-free number to a commission-approved organization providing problem gambling assistance must be posted conspicuously on the licensee’s website, mobile app, and on every licensed premises. Information about approved organizations must be provided to patrons who express concern.
- Allowing or participating in “any false or misleading advertising or marketing concerning the licensee’s sports wagering operations” is prohibited, e.g.: “An advertisement shall be misleading if the advertisement makes representations about average winnings without equally prominently representing the average net winnings of all patrons.”
- Promotions or bonuses described as “free or risk-free” are prohibited “if those promotions or bonus require the patron to incur any loss or risk the patron’s own money to use or withdraw winnings from the free wager”
The regulations also specify that “a licensee shall not advertise or market at elementary, middle, or high school activities.”
Ohio Not Wild About Kentucky’s Minimum Sports Betting Age
Kentucky regulators drew from sports betting rules in Massachusetts, Ohio, and a handful of other states when it drafted its regs signed off on by Beshear in July. But Kentucky diverged from Ohio and Massachusetts on the legal sports betting age – a fact that drew criticism from Ohio’s chief gaming regulator Matt Schuler.
According to a June 6 WCPO Cincinnati report, Schuler said “I absolutely hate the idea that individuals under 21 can go across the border, open an account and bet. I think it’s horrible.”
Schuler was talking about sports betting, not crossing the border to buy a Kentucky lottery ticket or put down a parlay at Churchill Downs during the Kentucky Derby. In Ohio and Massachusetts, just like Kentucky, horse race betting and playing the state lottery are allowed at age 18.
Ohio and Massachusetts also have legal casino gambling – something that is illegal in Kentucky. Massachusetts has three full-service casinos, Ohio has four. Both states have casinos among their sports betting licensees, with casino gambling and sports betting limited to persons age 21-plus.
Research reported last year by the National Council on Problem Gambling indicated an increase in risk for gambling addiction “overall” among young people from 2018 to 2021, with risk concentrated “among young males 18 to 24 who are sports bettors,” NCPG official Keith Whyte told Education Week in 2022. Most of the states with legal sports betting in the US, however, have a legal age of 21.
It remains to be seen if setting the legal sports betting age at 18 in Kentucky, or elsewhere, will lead to increases in problem gambling among the 18 to 24 age group in the US. It might have been a bad idea all along.
Then again, it might not be.
(AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)