New Kentucky Sports Betting Bill Could Have What It Takes

Kentucky has a new sports betting bill in hand that might have what it takes to bring mobile and in-person sportsbooks to the commonwealth.

House Bill 551 was filed on Wednesday by Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Oakland. The legislation would allow Kentucky horse racing tracks, including Churchill Downs and Keeneland, to partner with up to three sportsbook operators each, pending licensing by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. 

It’s the third bill to surface since January that would legalize online and retail sports betting in a state that is no stranger to gambling. Kentucky has one of the oldest pari-mutuel horse race betting systems in the nation, with live racing at five Thoroughbred tracks and two Standardbred tracks. 

Depending on how sports betting is regulated, that could mean a couple dozen (or more) sportsbooks for the Bluegrass State under a three-skin maximum per track. 

HB 551 Has Momentum To Legalize Sports Betting in Kentucky

It appears HB 551 has momentum among the three proposals filed so far. 

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer worked on the Kentucky sports betting bill with Meredith, according to a Feb. 3 report from Lexington news station LEX 18. A Michigan native, Thayer came to Kentucky to work in the Thoroughbred industry, including roles in management with the Breeders’ Cup. 

Kentucky Sports Betting, Keeneland Race Course,
Horse racing tracks like Keeneland (here the site of the Breeders’ Cup Turf in 2020) would be eligible to participate in legal sports betting in Kentucky should a law be passed (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

He has been a Kentucky state senator since 2003 and is considered one of the most powerful lawmakers in Frankfort. 

Thayer told the local station that HB 551 is narrower than the other two sports betting proposals filed this session. It wouldn’t legalize online poker or daily fantasy sports as they would. Nor does it mention fixed-odds horse race betting floated in other states like Georgia this year. Its focus is entirely on sports betting. 

But it would allow betting on collegiate sports, including the Kentucky Wildcats and Louisville Cardinals. Betting would be allowed on esports, too. 

Add the fact that House Minority Whip Derrick Graham – the sponsor of one of the two other sports betting bills filed this session – is a co-sponsor of HB 551, and its chances improve. Bipartisanship always helps, especially between bill sponsors like Meredith and Graham. 

Time Running Out 

Kentucky has less than a month to move a sports betting bill through both the House and Senate. Getting the job done will require a three-fifths vote in each chamber – a requirement to pass revenue bills in an odd-numbered year legislative session like this one. 

The session will be over on or before March 30.

That will be tough. But anything’s possible. In 2022, a sports betting proposal cleared the House by a wide margin but stalled in a Senate committee. 

Today, sports betting is legal in every state on Kentucky’s border except Missouri (and that could happen this spring). That may add extra pressure on Kentucky lawmakers to act. It certainly seems to irk Thayer. 

“You can stand in Covington, Kentucky and literally see where it’s legal to make sports bets,” he told LEX 18. “And the same thing happens in Louisville with people going over to Southern Indiana. And it’s also happening on Kentucky’s southern border with people going to Tennessee.”

About the Author
Rebecca Hanchett

Rebecca Hanchett

Legislative Writer
Based in Kentucky's Bluegrass region, Rebecca Hanchett is a political writer who covers legislative developments at Gaming Today. She worked as a public affairs specialist for 23 years at the Kentucky State Capitol. A University of Kentucky grad, Hanchett has been known to watch UK. basketball from time to time.

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