Kentucky is inching closer to legalizing sports betting, though in what exact form wagering on sports will be permitted is something lawmakers in the commonwealth are still trying to determine.
A bill that would legalize sports betting in Kentucky was passed without a “no” vote by the House Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee last week and will now go before the full House of Representatives. The House will likely debate the bill, which according to one estimate would generate at least $20 million a year in new taxes, sometime in the coming weeks.
To pass in the House and move forward to the Senate, 60 of 100 representatives are required to vote “yes.”
“I don’t know yet, to be honest,” Republican state Rep. Adam Koenig said on whether he thought the House would pass the bill, per told the Associated Press.
The issue of legalizing sports betting is not split along party lines in Kentucky, with Republicans and Democrats speaking in favor of and against passing a bill. Republicans control the House and Senate, with Gov. Matt Bevin also a member of the party. Bevin could veto the bill and has publicly said he doesn’t support Kentucky generate revenue via gaming.
Kentucky is competing against several neighboring states to legalize sports betting after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal ban last year on sports betting outside of Nevada. West Virginia legalized sports betting last year. Lawmakers in Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee and Ohio are either close to passing legislation that would make it legal or moving toward doing so.
According to analysis by Commonwealth Economics, Kentucky could generate upwards of $48 million annually in tax revenue if it legalizes sports betting -- provided neighboring states do not. However, if all other neighboring states also legalize sports betting, Kentucky’s expected annual revenue is projected to fall to $20.2 million a year.
But there is skepticism whether there is enough support in both the Kentucky House and Senate to pass a bill legalizing sports betting, then getting Bevin to signoff. Two of the primary hurdles facing those who want to make sports betting legal center on which sports can and cannot be wagered on, in addition to accessibility.
In its current form, the bill allows wagering on college competitions but prohibits wagering on in-state teams. Thus, bettors would not be allowed to place a wager on a game involving Kentucky’s two most popular programs, the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville, which would likely significantly diminish the overall handle.
Another requirement of the bill permits online wagering, but with the caveat that an individual who seeks to bet online first register in-person at an authorized land-based gaming facility such as a horse track or Kentucky Motor Speedway, which hosts annual NASCAR races. But with Kentucky only having a few gaming facilities beyond horse tracks, an in-person registration requirement could make it difficult for an individual to register, consequently pushing them toward gaming via illegal or offshore sites.
“People are crying to do it legally,” Koenig said, per the Lexington Herald Leader. “This is part of our culture -- not just Kentucky’s culture, but America’s culture -- and I think it’s time we brought these issues out of the shadows.”