2021 Outlook: Kentucky Gov. Beshear Pushing For Sports Betting

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Kentucky sports betting

It might be a short session with another gaming topic taking center stage but Kentucky sports betting should be legalized this year, Gov. Andy Beshear said.

Beshear touched on multiple topics in the first episode of Governor Andy Beshear: First Year Reflections on Kentucky Educational Television. Around the 35-minute mark, Beshear is asked by the host if the time is right to legalize KY sports betting:

“I believe the time was right years and years and years ago when virtually every state around us, all Republican states, already have it. We talk about having a competitive business climate but right now we’re not allowing business that every state around us is.

“The fact is you can drive right across the border, virtually any of our borders, and on your cell phone make a bet, and a dollar or a percentage of that bet is going to go to those states for their roads and bridges, for their schools and for other needs. The fact that we haven’t done it at this point is not only silly but puts us at a competitive disadvantage.”

Kentucky surrounded by sports betting

Beshear misspoke slightly since states typically tax sports betting revenue and not handle, but his point remains the same. Those bets placed by Kentuckians translate to tax revenue in five of Kentucky’s seven border states:

Its other two border states, Missouri and Ohio, will see efforts to legalize sports betting this year as well. Missouri already has three bills pre-filed and Ohio continues a years-long negotiation on legislation.

Sports betting might be overshadowed

Kentucky’s shot at legal betting will again be spearheaded by Rep. Adam Koenig, whose 2020 bill died last year in committee. Koenig told LSR last month that as much as he wants to see sports betting legalized, there might not be enough time.

Kentucky first needs to legalize historic horse racing after the state’s Supreme Court ruled some of the systems used on the slot-like games weren’t in line with pari-mutuel laws. With just 30 days in Kentucky’s shortened session this year, there might not be time to debate sports betting after the HHR issue is handled.

HHR machines brought in $33.8 million in taxes for the state last fiscal year. Revenue from the machines also boosts purses for the state’s horse racing industry.

“Historic horse racing is something that’s absolutely necessary if we want to continue to be the thoroughbred capital of the world,” Beshear said. “It supports thousands upon thousands of jobs and it’s time for the Senate and the House to step up and do right for an industry that we cannot let go somewhere else.”

Beshear wants full casino gaming

While Beshear wants to take care of historic horse racing and sports betting this year, he’d eventually like to see full-fledged casinos in the state.

“Let’s go ahead and do full casino gaming,” Beshear said when asked if the tax revenue from sports betting was worth the effort. “Indiana has it. They make hundreds of millions of dollars a year in revenue. We ought to do that.

“I’m willing to start with sports betting, but how about we compete with West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio and Missouri that all have casinos at or near our borders.”

Full casino gaming won’t be a topic for this shortened session, he confirmed. When it is up for legalization, though, he expects it to pass.

“We want to help push sports betting over the line [this year],” Beshear said. “We think once people see that and the opportunity that’s there that hopefully we’ll be closer to the full-blown gaming that I believe the majority of Kentuckians want and are tired of their dollars paving the roads in our neighboring states.”