Sen. Thayer Happy Sports Betting ‘On Equal Footing’ With Horse Racing in KY

According to an influential Kentucky senator, the state’s sports betting emergency regulations put the activity on “equal footing” with horse racing.

Sen. Damon Thayer was key in getting HB 551 through the legislature during this year’s shortened session.  The Republican representing Kentucky’s 17th District is the Senate Majority Leader and was a vocal supporter of legal sports betting.

Earlier this month, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission passed emergency regulations for the Kentucky sports betting industry. As a result, retail sportsbooks will launch on Sept. 7, in time for the first game of the 2023 NFL season. Online sportsbooks can start taking wagers on Sept. 28.

Thayer Puts His Support Behind Emergency Regulations

In a statement to Gaming Today, Thayer said he supported the emergency regulations. Not only that, but he was particularly enthusiastic about the standing of sports betting compared to horse racing.

“I support the direction the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has gone with the emergency regulations,” Thayer said. “Especially ensuring that horse racing will be presented on equal footing with other sports at retail locations.”

The first part of his statement is par for the course.

In other words, most Kentucky politicians support the emergency regulation route.

As gaming attorney Jeff Ifrah noted, emergency regulations were the only way Kentucky launches in time for the NFL season. Gov. Andy Beshear wanted the market up and running by NFL season. If this was the only way, lawmakers would support it.

On the other hand, horse racing is almost always left out of the sports betting conversation. But Thayer’s comment shows that even as horse racing revenue declines, it still has historical significance in Kentucky. It also shows how lawmakers in Kentucky hope sports betting doesn’t hurt the state’s horse racing industry.

And it also shows how closely sports betting is — and will be — tied to horse racing in Kentucky, largely due to the horse racing industry’s lobbying power.

After all, it’s no coincidence that sports betting became legal in Kentucky when the horse racetracks decided to throw their weight behind a sports betting bill. Gambling in Kentucky runs through the racetracks, and they were only going to allow a new form of gambling — sports betting — on their terms.

Horse Racing Still King in Kentucky, at Least Politically

During the 2022 fiscal year, Kentucky coffers received $1.43 million from horse betting taxes. Comparatively, Beshear expects new annual tax revenue from sports betting to eclipse $23 million.

Those horse racing numbers do not account for tax revenue from historical horse racing machines. Those more closely resemble slot machines than traditional horse racing. They generated $102.2 million in taxes in FY 2022.

In other words, Kentucky horse racing isn’t that big of a deal, at least financially speaking.

But horse racing is to Kentucky as crab cakes and football are to Maryland.

For most of its gambling history, the only sport Kentuckians were allowed to bet on was horse racing. Kentucky horse racing started in the 1700s, and the current pari-mutuel wagering structure was implemented with the creation of the KHRC in 1906.

It wasn’t until ballot 1988 ballot initiative that started the Kentucky Lottery that Kentuckians could gamble on anything other than horses.

Furthermore, the state is home to the most prestigious horse race of the year, the Kentucky Derby.

Horse racing might not be as popular as sports betting and HHR machines. But Thayer’s comments show that the industry still holds tremendous power within Kentucky’s political landscape.

About the Author
Steve Schult

Steve Schult

Sports Betting Writer
Steve Schult is a veteran of the gambling industry with more than a decade of experience covering the space. After earning his journalism degree from Marist College, the New York native began covering high-stakes poker tournaments and the U.S. gambling industry for various outlets. Following stints as a writer for Card Player Media, Bluff Magazine, and the World Series of Poker, Schult joined Catena Media and has managed coverage for a handful of states.

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