Kentucky Sports Wagering Bill Passes Through Senate Committee

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A bill to legalize sports betting in Kentucky took another step forward Wednesday, as the Senate Licensing and Occupations Committee passed HB 551 by a vote of 9-1. 

Kentucky is bordered by six states — Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia — that all allow legal mobile sports betting.

“We know there’s a significant amount of the marketplace that is just going across the state line, across the river to place their wagers,” Rep. Michael Meredith, the bill’s sponsor, testified Wednesday.

Under HB 551, adjusted gross revenue would be taxed at 14.25% for online bets and 9.25% for in-person wagers. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission would serve as the state’s sports betting regulator.

The bill would allow the state’s nine licensed horse tracks to offer retail and online sports wagering. A license would cost $500,000, with an annual renewal fee of $50,000. Each track could partner with up to three online sports betting operators, which could result in as many as 27 mobile sportsbooks in Kentucky. 

Bill debate

Several people spoke Wednesday morning in opposition to the idea of gambling expansion in Kentucky. Many of their arguments cited moral objections to sports betting and the possible rise of problem gaming issues. 

“Predatory gambling, especially in the expansive form that’s being considered in HB 551, is not a victimless form of entertainment or competition,” said David Walls, executive director of The Family Foundation. “It is a form of financial fraud that sees the government partner with gambling interests to the harm of its own citizens.”

Meredith responded to those concerns toward the end of Wednesday’s hearing.

“I don’t stand here to debate anyone’s morals or their religious convictions, and I’ve said that over and over again about this bill,” Meredith said. “But again, we know this is happening in the marketplace already, either illegally or just outside the boundaries of our commonwealth. And so I think it’s smart that we regulate this as a state and provide a structure where folks know what is happening in the marketplace and know it’s safe under the purview of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, which has a proven record of policing wagering.”

Next steps

The bill’s next step is a vote on the Senate floor, although a date for that has yet to be determined. It’s likely the vote comes on one of the final two days of the state’s legislative session, which concludes March 30. The legislature takes a 10-day break beginning on March 17 for a veto period that gives Gov. Andy Beshear time to consider veto measures related to bills sent to his desk. 

The legislature returns on March 29, creating two busy days for the group to attempt to pass additional bills. For the bill to reach Gov. Beshear’s desk, it needs a three-fifths majority vote (23 of the 38 senators) of approval on the Senate floor. That’s a significant hurdle.

“We’re going to try and we’re making the case, but you know, there are people who have moral convictions against gambling and I’m going to respect that,” Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer told WDRB News. “But hopefully people will reach out to their senators over the next 10 days or so and talk to them about their support for the bill.”

If the bill reaches Beshear’s desk, he’s likely to sign it, as the governor has been outspoken in his support of legalized sports betting in Kentucky.


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