Despite momentum early in 2019, Kentucky’s sports betting hopes for this year have run out of steam.
WIth the session slated to expire at the end of March and only a few session days left, there isn’t enough time left for the measure to pass the House and then also make its way through the state Senate. The legislation, House Bill 175, was teed up for a House vote late last month, if the votes were there.
The sponsor of the legislation, state Rep. Adam Koenig, a Republican from Northern Kentucky, previously gave US Bets an unofficial deadline of March 1 to see if the House votes would come in. According to Koenig and various reports, some influential anti-gambling religious groups lined up to oppose the legislation.
“Nothing is really dead until midnight on the last day of session [on March 28]” Koenig told US Bets on Monday morning. “But needing a supermajority of votes was too high a bar to get in a short time period. We will regroup and reload with a better plan to win the hearts and minds of the public next year. We will only need a simple majority, and it will be a budget year where that $20-$48 million [in tax revenue] will look a lot more important. I really like the chances next year.”
This year, Koenig needed to find 60 votes from the 100 House members (a three-fifths supermajority) on the revenue-generating bill. In 2020, because it’s an even-numbered year, a Koenig bill will need just 51 to reach the state Senate. Koenig’s HB 175 had 20 co-sponsors, so a solid chunk of the votes are already there.
The unsuccessful sports betting efforts in 2019 mark the third straight year that the Bluegrass State has considered legalizing the activity. There was legislation in 2017, a year before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992.
Sen. Rand Paul support not enough
The religious opposition to the economic development and consumer protection bill was on display during a Feb. 25 sports betting debate hosted by Kentucky Tonight. The silver lining is that while there is entrenched opposition to gambling expansion of any kind, sports betting clearly had more momentum and interest this session than ever before.
U.S. Senator Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, commented on his state’s sports betting plans, but his support was a little too late to have any meaningful impact. However, the argument for sports betting that Paul put forward is part of the same argument that proponents will need to make next year.
“We in Kentucky have been pretty accepting of betting on horses,” Paul told Spectrum News. “I don’t think betting on horses is different than betting on a slot machine or sports, so I’m pretty open to letting adults choose what they want to do … I think allowing people to bet on sports is no different than betting on horses, which most people in Kentucky are accepting of.”
Paul’s comments echoed many made at the state and local levels.
Thanks to earmarking sports betting tax revenue for the state’s pension system, some prominent groups in the state came out in support of the proposal, including a fire fighters association.
Pass #HB175 Legalized Sports Wagering Bill sponsored by @repkoenig & co sponsored by 20 other legislators. Money from wagering will go to the Permanent Pension Fund. @KYHouseGOP @kyhousedems #KYga19 pic.twitter.com/AA9HneuahO
— KY FIREFIGHTERS (@KPFF_IAFF) March 3, 2019
There was also backing by the Kentucky Coal Association. While the money would barely make a dent into the state’s roughly $40 billion pension debt, the new revenue stream had many interested.
Progress made in 2019
Expanding gambling has become an issue too big to ignore for upcoming Kentucky General Assemblies. Every single one of the states that borders Kentucky is moving toward beefing up their respective gambling markets (or establishing one, as in the case of Virginia). Even Tennessee to the south, which also doesn’t have casinos, is becoming serious about sports wagering. West Virginia, which already has sports betting, last week passed an online casino bill. Missouri, Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio are all considering sportsbooks.
Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear, a Democrat, acknowledged the situation in a letter to the legislature last last year. He said that Kentuckians spend more than $1 billion each year in casinos in neighboring states, and that’s in the absence of sports wagering. Beshear called for legalizing casinos and sports betting, and he said the money should go toward the pension liabilities.
Beshear’s backing of sports betting didn’t move the needle in 2019, but it could pay off in the future, especially if he is able to run and win against Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican, in November.
In terms of mobile wagering, the discussion in 2019 represented progress, but it remains a mixed bag. Koenig’s legislation called for mobile sports wagering statewide (in addition to lottery-run online poker sites), which is crucial for a Kentucky market. However, in an effort to try to appease the conservative opposition, Koenig’s plan called for requiring in-person registration for a mobile wagering account. That would not be ideal for establishing a state-of-the-art industry that maximizes state tax revenues.
It also looks like the prickly issue regarding betting on non-sporting events like the Oscars was hashed out for good in 2019. Wagering on entertainment shows or reality TV will more than likely be off the table next year after a provision to allow Oscar-type betting was stripped from the efforts.
Something that needs further work in 2020 will be the question of wagering on Kentucky college sports. Koenig’s bill would have prohibited betting on all of the state’s college teams, but that would also not be the best for keeping gambling dollars within the state.
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