A bill that would legalize sports betting in Kentucky, HB 551, passed through the state’s House of Representatives Monday evening. It’s a positive step forward for sports betting supporters, but winning approval in the Senate is expected to pose a tougher challenge.
Kentucky’s legislative session is scheduled to end on March 30, giving state senators just a couple more weeks to pass the sports betting bill.
HB 551 – the sports betting bill – passes out of the Kentucky House on a 63-34 vote.
— Karolina Buczek (@Karolina_Buczek) March 13, 2023
Kentucky is bordered by six states — Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia — that all allow legal mobile sports betting. Bill sponsor Rep. Michael Meredith hopes Kentucky can take advantage of the potential tax revenue from legalizing sports wagering.
“Not only have six of our seven border states [legalized sports betting], but 46 counties of the 120 counties in Kentucky border a state that has legalized sports betting within their borders,” Meredith said. “You literally just have to drive across the county line or across the river to take part in their programs.”
HB 551 would allow nine licensed horse tracks in the state to offer retail and online sports betting. Each track could partner with up to three online sports betting operators, which could result in as many as 27 mobile sportsbooks in Kentucky. An amendment to the bill eliminates the need for in-person registration for mobile betting.
Adjusted gross revenue would be taxed at 14.25% for online bets and 9.25% for in-person wagers, with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission as regulator. Meredith cited an estimate that once fully implemented, sports betting could bring in roughly $20 million in annual tax revenue.
A couple of proposed amendments Monday were shot down in the House. One of those would have banned the deposit of funds into betting accounts via credit card. Another failed amendment hoped to raise the legal age for betting from 18 to 21.
The bill was successfully amended recently to send 2.5% of tax revenue to a problem gaming fund.
Senate remains a challenge
Last year, a bill to legalize sports wagering in Kentucky also passed through the House, but the effort failed in the Senate, which could remain a hurdle to passage.
Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear has been an outspoken supporter of legalized sports betting. Beshear even called out Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer last year, as the sports betting debate became contentious.
“My thought is, if Damon Thayer wanted sports betting to pass, he’d get it passed,” Beshear said. “It’s time. The people of Kentucky absolutely want this.”
Thayer has said previously that he supports sports betting initiatives, but he’s had trouble wrangling the votes needed to pass the legislation.
For a different outcome in 2023, the Senate will need to move fairly quickly with just a couple of weeks left in the legislative session. The debate could come down to the final days of the legislative session, as sports betting stakeholders lobby for support from senators.