Is Kentucky Sports Betting Already Dead For 2021?

Posted on December 14, 2020
Written By on December 14, 2020

Kentucky appeared to be a top candidate to legalize sports betting in 2020. Now, it could be 2022 before the state legislature gives it another chance.

Rep. Adam Koenig confirmed to LSR he will submit another Kentucky sports betting bill in 2021 after his efforts failed this year. It might not matter, though. A recent state Supreme Court ruling puts Kentucky’s current gaming industry in jeopardy, which needs to be the first focus, Koenig said.

Historical horse racing contributes significant tax revenue and cash for horse racing purses throughout the state. Handle from the slot-like machines was more than $2.2 billion in fiscal 2020 which translated to $33.8 million in excise taxes for the state. It’s also led to higher purses for Kentucky’s horse racing industry.

The importance of that issue and the shortened 30-day session means sports betting might not get a fair chance on the floor this year.

“As frustrating as it is for me to say because I’ve put so much effort into sports betting, I think it’s fair to say historical horse racing is going to be number one and it should be,” Koenig said.

Kentucky legislature might run out of time for sports betting

The Kentucky legislature only meets for 30 days in odd-numbered years. Four days in January will be used for organizational issues like organizing committees. Most of the legislative work comes in February and early March with the session ending March 30.

With an issue as important as getting historic horse racing on the right side of the law, sports betting might not even get a chance to be heard.

“That’s possible, it may even be likely,” Koenig said about not having enough time to discuss sports betting this session. “I’m going to remain optimistic.”

Gaming not a popular topic in Kentucky

Passing a bill to legalize historic horse racing machines in the state would be the biggest gaming vote in Kentucky since the lottery passed in 1988. So the idea of there being two significant gaming issues decided in one year in the conservative state is “hard to imagine,” Koenig said.

What makes it even harder is there’s a greater number of yes votes needed in odd-year sessions. Instead of just a simple majority, Koenig would need a three-fifths majority to pass sports betting out of the House.

But then again, one gaming expansion might make legislators feel more comfortable with another.

“On the flip side, once people experience it and go home and realize their churches didn’t kick them out and life went on as normal after there was the vote, then maybe people will come back and say you know what that wasn’t so bad, let’s talk about this,” Koenig added.

Koenig: Kentuckians need to ‘help a brother out’ on sports betting

A recent Twitter post highlighting the impact of sports betting in Indiana, which borders Kentucky, brought some frustrated Kentuckians out of the woodwork.

Kentucky has seven border states. FiveIllinois, Indiana, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia – have legal sports betting while the other two, Ohio and Missouri, want to legalize. So it’s not just Indiana’s border that potential tax dollars are flowing over.

Koenig suggested taking the spirit of those Twitter posts and making sure legislators know how Kentuckians feel.

“They need to hound their legislator,” Koenig said. “It sounds quaint, but it’s the truth. I need backup. Help a brother out. I’m with you in the fact that I want you to do it legally.

“… Help me out, contact your legislators and don’t just do it once, keep on them. Because the opponents are louder than you and there’s fewer of them, but the legislators don’t know that because they aren’t hearing from the proponents.”

What’s the issue with historic horse racing?

The Kentucky Supreme Court issued a ruling in September that the HHR system used by Exacta doesn’t quite fit the definition for parimutuel wagering.

Kentucky doesn’t have typical casinos, though someone not familiar with the industry might not know the difference. Historical horse racing machines look, sound and feel like slot machines but use math based on previously run horse races to determine the winning lines.

Family Trust Foundation of Kentucky, which brought the civil suit, could now turn around and ask for a similar ruling on other HHR systems in the state, Koenig said.

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Matthew Waters

Matthew Waters is a reporter covering legal sports betting and the gambling industry. Previous stops include Fantini Research and various freelance jobs covering professional and amateur sports in Delaware and the Philadelphia area.

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