While Kentucky sports betting legalization faces an uphill battle in 2023, a Senate leader sees promise for the issue moving forward.
Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer told LSR this week he expects momentum to carry over from last year’s failed effort, but that a shortened odd-year session and strong religious opposition will be tough to overcome. Still, he thinks there is a shot KY sports betting passes this year.
When the Kentucky legislature reconvenes in February, there will be 26 days to act this year.
“Anything can happen, I’m not willing to lay odds on it at this point, but I think the chances are better than last year,” Thayer said. “My hope is we can make some progress this year and then if we aren’t successful, then it sets up next year when we have a longer session and lower threshold.
“That doesn’t mean I’m giving up on this year.”
Sports betting starts in Kentucky House
Last year, the Kentucky legislature came close to legalizing sports betting with an effort from former Rep. Adam Koenig. Any successful push this year will start from the House as well, Thayer said.
Three Representatives are leading the charge in the House with HB 106. Thayer said he is working with the sponsors to make it more appealing to the Senate.
A sports betting-only bill would be more palatable to the Senate, according to Thayer. Right now, the legislation expands Kentucky gaming to also include online poker and daily fantasy sports.
Republican Senate split on sports betting
Last year, Koenig’s bill did not receive a vote in the Senate because the Republican majority could not come to a consensus on support for sports betting.
This year, Thayer said the Senate has gained some sports betting support from freshman senators.
Thayer said, however, that Senate President Robert Stivers remains ambivalent about the issue. Gov. Andy Beshear, a supporter of sports betting, blamed “a few” Senate holdouts for the failed 2022 effort.
Baptists play prevent defense in Kentucky
Despite the perceived momentum, there is conservative religious opposition in Kentucky. Last week, the Kentucky Baptist Convention promised to fight against sports betting.
“When you get the Baptist preachers fired up, it turns into a rural-urban divide,” Thayer said. “There are parts of this state that are very socially conservative, and it is represented in the legislature.”
Kentucky Baptist Convention leaders argue that legalized sports betting will foster “the temptation to love” and “most often leads to other sin.”
“While proponents will argue that gambling generates revenue, we know it comes with social and spiritual costs that are often hidden in the short-term but always present,” Kentucky Baptist Convention President James Carroll told Kentucky Today. “Research demonstrates that even though some people engage responsibly in gambling, many will indulge to a point that costs a community through increased crime, bankruptcy, family disintegration, and additional government services.
“As Kentucky Baptists, we discern the lack of wisdom in supporting it because of the economic and social price our state will inevitably pay.”