As online Kentucky sports betting kicked off last month, it became the largest market to allow 18-year-olds to wager.
DraftKings and bet365 are the only two sportsbooks that will accept wagers by bettors under 21 in the Bluegrass State. Kentucky is one of five US markets to allow those ages 18 and up to place legal mobile sports betting.
While the potential financial impact of the young bettors is likely not large, the age limit could cause responsible gambling-related issues. Additionally, the Kentucky sports betting age limit will likely have spillover effects by attracting bettors from nearby states who are not yet of legal age in their home markets.
What could it mean for Kentucky sports betting?
Kentucky has multiple large universities, including University of Kentucky and University of Louisville. Together, the two schools have an undergrad population of approximately 40,000, many of whom are under 21.
A source from a Kentucky sportsbook not open to those under 21 said they would expect it to be approximately 5% to 10% of an operator’s handle. LSR projects Kentucky to draw up to $2.9 billion annually in wagers.
According to the source, that extra handle would not be worth any responsible gambling worries.
Responsible gaming importance for Kentucky sports betting
While the National Council on Problem Gaming does not recommend a standard sports betting age limit, Executive Director Keith Whyte applauded sportsbooks opting to stay with the 21-and-up rule seen in most other markets. He said the 18-to-24 age group is the most vulnerable to developing gambling issues, and any additional delay to legal betting access could help curb problems.
How sportsbooks in Kentucky advertise around the universities in the state’s largest cities will likely be under plenty of scrutiny. Earlier this year, sportsbooks and schools across the US opted to end partnerships because of responsible gaming concerns.
Kentucky drawing from elsewhere?
It will not be just young Kentuckians betting, either. Young bettors from legal markets almost entirely surrounding the Bluegrass State could also go across the border, similar to how New Yorkers found their way into New Jersey before the Empire State legalized sports betting.
One neighbor is the University of Cincinnati, which sits on the border of Kentucky. Ohio, as a whole, is a state full of college students, and Kentucky’s decision to offer under-21 betting drew the ire of Matt Schuler, executive director of the Ohio Casino Control Commission.
“I absolutely hate the idea that individuals under 21 can go across the border, open an account and bet,” Schuler said this summer. “The age group that is most at risk of developing a gambling problem are males 18 to 35. The younger ones are most vulnerable as they’re not at the age yet where they can thoroughly process the consequences of their cations. Not my opinion. Scientific fact.”
College towns near Kentucky border
To the south, Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, is a 45-minute drive to the border. The University of Tennessee in Knoxville is also less than an hour from the border.
Huntington, West Virginia, home of Marshall University, is less than a 20-minute drive from the border.
While those under 21 are not adding to those two respective states’s handles, the close proximity of large college-aged populations could add to the haul for Kentucky sportsbooks.
Why Kentucky went with age limit
Kentucky legislators chose to stay with an 18-year-old age limit to stay in line with its horse racing industry.
“You can bet in the lottery at 18. You can play bingo, everything else is 18. I don’t understand what’s special about 18,” said former state Rep. Adam Koenig, who led the Kentucky sports betting effort for several years.
Lead sponsor, Rep. Michael Meredith, allocated 2.5% of sports betting tax revenue to responsible gaming support programs.