Kentucky Sports Betting Bill Clears Initial Senate Hurdle

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Kentucky sports betting

A Kentucky sports betting is heading to the Senate floor with a potential changing tide from last year. 

The Kentucky Senate Licensing and Occupations Committee advanced HB 551 to the chamber floor Wednesday morning, 9-1. The Kentucky sports betting bill passed the House Monday. Despite reservations, several committee members voted to send the bill on with the goal of regulating an activity already occurring in Kentucky.

If the Senate acts on the bill, it will likely come when the legislature reconvenes March 29 following a 10-day veto break. Rep. Michael Meredith remains “cautiously optimistic” about his bill’s chances. A sports betting bill made it to the Senate last year but did not receive a vote.

“This issue has made it further than it ever has, but the Senate floor vote with the higher threshold of 23 votes will still be a challenge,” Meredith told LSR Wednesday. “The veto period will certainly be open for negotiations and for opportunities to explain the provisions of House Bill 551 further to members of the Senate that have not yet made up their minds on the vote or who need more information.”

Full Senate vote in Kentucky coming?

This year’s major hurdle is the 23-vote threshold legislation needs for passage in odd years. Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer said there are already 20 votes in line that passage requires in an even year.

Meredith said there is no threat of a veto from Gov. Andy Beshear, and proponents still need to garner more support in the Senate, which is why a vote would likely come after the break. Meredith told LSR Wednesday two or three more Senators need to commit support to the bill.

“The bill before the Senate is a strong product.  We’ve worked on the language for close to three months, listened to folks in the industry, problem gaming advocates and my colleagues on the other end of the capital,” Meredith said.

“Now we just have to make sure the members of the Senate know the details and reasons why bringing this marketplace out of the shadows and into the light through prudent regulation are good for the citizens of Kentucky, especially those that are consumers in the marketplace.”

Hurdles left in Kentucky

While support seems to have grown in the Bluegrass State, similar opposition remains that prevented a vote in the Senate last year.

Thayer previously told LSR the Kentucky Baptist Convention would remain a roadblock as multiple Senators follow the conservative religious organization’s guidance. Last year, Thayer’s Republican caucus could not agree to vote on sports betting in 2022.

In explaining his vote Wednesday, Thayer said Kentucky is nearly surrounded by legal sports betting states and that Tennessee is “a more conservative state” with sports betting. KBC Executive Director Todd Gray testified against the bill Wednesday, along with several other opponents.

Kentucky sports betting late push

Meredith outlined his bill for the Senate committee Wednesday. The legislation allows in-person sportsbooks at the nine horse racing tracks in Kentucky. 

Those nine tracks can also partner with up to three online sportsbooks each for 27 possible skins. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission is the proposed regulatory body for KY sports betting.

The state could levy a 9.75% tax on in-person sports betting revenue and 14.25% on online activity. Meredith’s legislation does not include online poker and daily fantasy sports, in hopes of becoming more palatable to the Senate.

Potential sports betting revenue

Meredith said GeoComply data showed 5 million checks in Kentucky from 181,000 accounts registered in other states during the NFL season.

He said Kentucky bettors illegally wager more than $1 billion annually and “a significant amount” going across state lines to legal sportsbooks.

The KY Legislative Research Commission projects sports betting will bring the state nearly $23 million annually in taxes and fees.