How Kentucky Sports Betting Bill Failed In 2020 Despite Having The Votes

Posted on March 26, 2020

The state legislative session will end next week without a bill passed to legalize Kentucky sports betting. That doesn’t necessarily mean Kentuckians will have to wait two years to bet legally in their state.

Rep. Adam Koenig talked with Legal Sports Report about why his bill is failing in 2020 despite having majority support in both chambers, and how it could pass in 2021 while facing a more difficult path.

H 137 was sent back to Koenig’s Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee last week.

After cutting 10 days from its legislative session because of coronavirus issues, the only matter the Kentucky Legislature is working on in the final days until April 1 is the state budget. Koenig doesn’t expect sports betting to be included in the revenue bill for the budget.

“I think we’re looking at a dead bill this year and come back next year,” Koenig said. “I may not leave this place until they pass it, so if they want to get rid of me, they better hurry up. Getting rid of me might motivate some.”

Why Kentucky sports betting fizzled out

Early this year, Kentucky seemed like one of the most likely states to legalize sports betting in 2020.

Gov. Andy Beshear came out strongly in favor of Koenig’s bill to legalize sports betting, online poker and daily fantasy sports in his State of the Commonwealth address.

The next day, Koenig advanced the bill through his committee and said the support was there in the House to pass the legislation in short order.

It was thought that the Senate would be the possible roadblock. Then Sen. Majority Leader Damon Thayer spoke out that he was in full support and thought the votes were there in the Senate.

In the House, Koenig told LSR that he has more than 60 votes for passage out of the 100-member chamber. It only takes a simple majority to pass a bill.

Republicans block bill after lobbying

The Kentucky sports betting bill would pass in the House if only Koenig could get it called for a vote.

With the Democratic governor calling for passage, the Democrats in the legislature are behind the bill.

Koenig said Republicans were behind his bill until it moved through his committee and the Family Foundation of Kentucky began lobbying against it. Senate leadership won’t call the bill for a vote without a majority of the Republican caucus in support.

“The fact of the matter is we have plenty of votes but not enough Republican votes,” Koenig said. “I joined the Republican party of more personal responsibility and less government intervention in our lives. There’s a lot of my fellow House members who believe in the government’s need to keep people from engaging in behaviors they find potentially harmful. That’s the antithesis of how I think.”

2021 harder but possible for KY sports betting

With the shortened legislative session, Koenig does expect a special session to be called at some point. The governor decides what is addressed in a special session, which could give some hope for Kentucky sports betting.

One reason this was supposed to be the year for sports betting in Kentucky was that legislation is easier to pass in the state during even years. The session is longer and bills only require a majority vote.

Next year, Kentucky will only have a 30-day session and the bill will need three-fifths, or 60 out of 100, votes to pass in the House.

Koenig contends that the 60 votes aren’t a concern. What could change to pass the bill is turnover among the Republican ranks.

“I can think of four members of the House Republican Caucus, some who are actively fighting it, who are retiring,” Koenig said. “One may be replaced by a Democrat, the other three by Republicans but a few of those people running are younger and may be yes votes on it. I’m optimistic about next year, but I was optimistic about this year, so what the hell do I know.”

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Matthew Kredell

Matthew started his career as a sportswriter at the Los Angeles Daily News, where he covered the NFL, Kobe-Shaq three-peat, Pete Carroll’s USC football teams, USC basketball, pro tennis, Kings hockey and fulfilled his childhood dream of sitting in the Dodgers’ dugout. His reporting on efforts to legalize sports betting began in 2010, when Playboy Magazine flew him to Prague to hang out with Calvin Ayre and show how the NFL was pushing US money overseas by fighting expansion of regulated sports betting across the country. A USC journalism alum, Matt also has written on a variety of topics for Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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