Kentucky Sports Betting Law Godfather Adam Koenig: An LSR Q+A

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Kentucky sports betting

When in-person Kentucky sports betting launched last week, it signaled the end of a long journey for former Rep. Adam Koenig

The Kentucky legislator first proposed legal sports betting in 2019, only to see it pass this spring when he no longer had a seat in the House. Still, much of the language in the law comes from his proposals, and Koenig was present at ceremonial first bets and regularly cited by key lawmakers in the final push.

One last milestone will come for Koenig on September 28, when online sports betting in Kentucky launches. LSR recently caught up with Koenig, who is now a political consultant in the Bluegrass State.

LSR: What took so long to get sports betting over the hump in Kentucky? 

Koenig: That first bill, obviously, people were excited about it, but there was a loud, small group of naysayers. But we’re a hotbed of wagering on horses and a hotbed of college basketball fans. 

Still, it was the largest legal change in wagering since the lottery was approved in 1990. So, it was not easy for people to do or for a lot of people in rural areas to accept. 

This is a convoluted story, but some context: when I first got there in 2007, changing alcohol laws was next to impossible. I remember a bill in my second or third year, it just would have allowed beer companies to advertise in circulars that they throw in the driveway. It died on the House floor because a ‘no’ vote on anything alcohol was the easy way to go. Whoever was responsible for working it actually got to their job and worked it and brought it back to life, and it passed easily.

It took a lot of those types of bills to get people comfortable over the years to vote on alcohol, and go home and find out they weren’t going to get beat because of it. That’s where gambling bills were then, too. It’s just an easy ‘no’ for people.

LSR: Why did you become the champion of Kentucky sports betting? 

Koenig: Look, casinos and expanded gambling in Northern Kentucky, where we were surrounded by it in Ohio and Indiana, it was one of the most popular issues when I first started running. It was something I took down there as something I was focused on.

And I ran as an actual small-government conservative. The government telling someone they can’t do something is against my general philosophy. 

LSR: How much did the final language of the sports betting bill change from your proposals?

Koenig: The language didn’t change very much year-to-year. I’m just stubborn and willing to wait, and you know, it became easier as it passed all these other states.

We’re living in a time when more state legislatures are run by Republicans, so I’d point out repeatedly that surrounding states that are Republican-led with Republican governors passed it. No one ever lost their job over it. 

So, that made it easier for some. I always had the votes, but we needed a majority of the majority to bring it up. Year one, if it just got to the vote, it would have passed, thanks to the Democrats.

LSR: Are you upset you were not the one who officially got it across the finish line?

Koenig: I’m not upset. It would have been nice, but Representative [Michael] Meredith and I are very good friends. He did a great job and was probably a better spokesperson as a rural legislator.

He kept having conversations with rural legislators, and he was able to handle it better than me, and that’s OK. 

You’re easily forgotten once you’re out. Rep. Meredith, Sen. [Damon] Thayer and the governor have been very generous in including me, praising me and making sure everyone knows that they determined I was the godfather.

LSR: Why was it important for the horse tracks to be involved? 

Koenig: The reality is, if they weren’t, they would have opposed it. If they opposed it, it would have failed.

Plus, they are entities that know what they’re doing. They take gambling money every day.

They understand the mechanisms and regulations of doing such things, so it made a lot of sense from that perspective.

LSR: Is there anything you wish would have made it into the law?

Koenig: I don’t think it’s a surprise that I had online poker and fantasy sports as well, and I would have liked to see them stay. I figured they would come out eventually because legislators couldn’t differentiate the issues. 

They know poker happens in casinos, so it’s a casino game, no matter if it’s a game of skill. Unless you’re well-versed, it doesn’t matter to them. It is what it is, and it’s fine.

I’ve been holding out to hopefully play poker online like I used to before our friends in Washington decided it was in my best interest not to. Now, I play live in a casino across the river.