The time to legalize sports betting is now

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The Kentucky State Capitol on Friday, Jan. 29, 2021, in Frankfort, Kentucky. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff.

Hunter Shelton

Since the U.S. Supreme Court ended the federal ban on sports betting over three years ago, the United States has witnessed a boom in the world of props, parlays and pick-em’s. 

As of March 2022, 30 states and the District of Columbia have “live and legal” sports betting legislation. There’s growing hope around the Commonwealth that Kentucky could become state No. 31.

HB 606, a bill that would legalize retail and online sports gambling, passed in the Kentucky House of Representatives on March 18 by a vote of 58-30. It is the furthest that any betting-related legislation has made it in the state. The bill would also legalize daily fantasy sports and online poker.  

It’s currently legal to gamble on horses in Kentucky thanks to pari-mutuel betting, which differs from other forms of sports betting in that the bettor places wagers against other bettors, not a sportsbook or bookmaker. Aside from testing their luck at Keeneland or Churchill Downs or playing the lottery, Kentuckians are unable to bet.  

Republican State Rep. Adam Koenig is sponsoring the bill, which has the support of Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear has also pushed for the legalization of sports betting.  

The bill would establish a 9.75% tax rate for remote bets and 14.25% for in-person. HB 606 has been read to the Senate, beginning the next step toward getting the bill to a floor vote. 

There is currently a 10-day veto period that lasts until April 12, during which the General Assembly is unable to touch the bill, allowing the governor to either push the bill through or delay it. The Kentucky legislative session runs through April 14, leaving a narrow two-day window for the bill to pass once the veto period ends. 

If the bill were to pass, horse racing tracks would be able to open retail locations as well as partner with online and mobile providers. There is no better place in the world for sports betting and gambling on horse racing than Kentucky. No sport is more synonymous with a location than racing horses in the Bluegrass. Sportsbooks would pay tracks like Keeneland an outrageous sum of money to be able to partner with them. 

Furthermore, surrounding states where sports betting is legal are pulling Kentuckians’ money away from the state. Five of the seven states that border Kentucky allow sports gambling, with Ohio set to become the sixth this year.  

The second you cross the bridge into Indiana, you are greeted by casinos and sportsbooks. “Caesars Southern Indiana” resides just a few hundred yards on the other side of the Ohio River. Heading down south you can find businesses such as “Kentucky State Line Bingo” at the Tennessee border.  

Those Kentucky dollars that could be used for education, road construction and Medicaid instead see state tax revenue head to the next state over, and it’s not a small amount of money. U.S. commercial gaming revenue reached $4.50 billion in January 2022, according to The American Gaming Association. It is an ever-growing market that would benefit both parties if Kentucky decided to take part. 

Simply put, Kentucky is missing out on a lucrative business that would excel in the state.

Horses aside, Big Blue Nation wouldn’t hesitate to place a wager or two on the Wildcats covering a three-point spread against Tennessee. Despite having no professional teams in the state, Kentucky is sports crazy and rich in talent at the collegiate level, and schools like UK and Louisville have the fan bases to back it up.  

Sports gambling would be a successful venture in Kentucky, and now is the time for its legalization. Thayer has noted that the Senate isn’t going to be an easy group to budge, even calling the bill a “longshot” to pass.  

If HB 606 is unable to weasel its way through the Senate this year, it’s unlikely that it will have an opportunity to do so again until 2024. Sessions that take place during odd-numbered years require a three-fifths majority vote due to the much shorter 30-day period, meaning that the bill would struggle even more to pass in 2023.  

The sports betting market has been on a steep incline for the past couple of years, and it is showing zero signs of stopping anytime soon. Over half of the country has now legalized it, leaving Kentucky in the minority, even though it is the home of possibly the most profitable sport to gamble on.  

If Kentucky’s Senate once again prevails, it will be a sad reminder that the Commonwealth is stuck in its ways, headlined by the rural Republican senators whose deep-seated beliefs continue to hold back the state they govern.  

The call to post is rapidly approaching, but the Bluegrass State has yet to make it to the track. Time will tell if Kentucky can make it to the starting gate, or if it will be content to watch the sports betting race for revenue from the paddock once again.