With Ohio Launch Looming, Could Kentucky Sports Betting Be Next?

Ohio state lawmakers voted to legalize retail and online sports betting last week, with Gov. Mike DeWine expected to sign the bill soon. That would put Ohio sportsbooks live by Jan. 2023, at the latest. 

It also puts neighboring Kentucky at a disadvantage. Ohio will be the sixth state bordering the commonwealth to legalize sports betting when the bill passed by Ohio lawmakers on Dec. 8, 2021 becomes law. Five other surrounding states – Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Indiana, and Illinois – are already legal and live. 

The good news is Kentucky’s chances to legalize sports betting in 2022 look better than ever. Gaming Today looks at why sports bettors can be somewhat optimistic about a chance for passage in the new year. 

Kentucky HHR and Kentucky Sports Betting

Kentucky sports betting would be tethered to horse racing tracks under several recent legislative proposals. 

This year, the tracks got a boost when the Kentucky General Assembly passed an historical horse racing (HHR) bill designed to save the state’s signature horse racing industry. Some state lawmakers see that support as boding well for legalization of Kentucky sports betting next year. 

That’s according to Erlanger Republican State Rep. Adam Koenig, who told Gaming Today in Sept. 2021 that passage of HHR provisions in 2021 Senate Bill 120 is a bit of a bellwether for sports betting’s chances in Kentucky. 

SB 120, introduced by lead sponsor Sen. John Schickel of Union, made HHR part of the definition of pari-mutuel under Kentucky law to allow at least certain HHR machines to operate at Kentucky horse tracks. 

Koenig, Schickel, and other lawmakers pushed for the change to save the tracks after the machines were ruled illegal by the Kentucky Supreme Court in 2020.

“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 back in September. “That should help those members and others vote their conscience on sports betting).”

What Could A Kentucky Sports Betting Law Look Like in 2022? 

Koenig chairs the House Licensing, Occupations, and Administrative Regulations Committee that handles gambling legislation in the state’s lower chamber. He has filed Kentucky sports betting legislation for at least four consecutive years, including a 2020 proposal to legalize retail and online sports betting, fantasy sports, and online poker. 

When asked how he’ll tackle sports betting legalization in 2022, Koenig told Gaming Today he expects to file legislation similar to his 2020 proposal. 

That proposal would have legalized retail and online sports betting tethered to Kentucky horse tracks and any sports venue home to a professional team. It would have allowed one skin (mobile app) per track or sports venue, with potential state tax revenues of $20 million to $30 million-plus annually under a proposed  tax rate of 9.75% retail and 14.75% mobile/online. 

That would be a nice revenue boost for a state that has struggled to meet its public pension obligations and other public needs for decades. But while Koenig is hopeful that sports betting can pass, he’s still measured in his optimism.

“I really thought it would have passed by now,” Koenig told Gaming Today. “(But) since we passed Historical Horse Racing this year, I am optimistic that many members are more open to the idea than they were previously.”

Koenig has not yet pre-filed sports betting legislation for consideration in the upcoming year. The Kentucky General Assembly convenes its 2022 Regular Session on Jan. 4, 2022. 

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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