Legal sports betting could finally become a reality in Kentucky. On Wednesday last week, the Kentucky Senate Licensing and Occupations Committee advanced HB 551 to the chamber floor. Committee members voted 9-1 to pass the bill, with the goal of regulating an activity already occurring in the state, although on an unregulated basis.
If the Senate acts on the bill, it will likely come when the legislature reconvenes on March 29 following a 10-day veto break. Rep. Michael Meredith remains “cautiously optimistic” about his bill’s chances. This isn’t the first time sports betting has made it to the Senate. Last year, a sports betting bill reached the same stage; however, it did not receive a vote.
“This issue has made it further than it ever has, but the Senate floor vote with the higher threshold of 23 votes will still be a challenge,” Meredith said, as reported by local news. The veto period is expected to be open for negotiations and for opportunities to explain the provisions of House Bill 551 to members of the Senate that have not yet made up their minds on the vote.
Rep. Michael Meredith
The Senate Majority Leader, Damon Thayer, has indicated that there are already 20 votes in support of the bill, with a 23-vote threshold needed for passage in an odd–numbered year. According to Meredith, there is no threat of a veto from Governor Andy Beshear, who has shown support for legal betting, but proponents still need to convince two to three more Senators to back the bill.
HB 551 would allow in-person sportsbooks at the nine horse-racing tracks in Kentucky. In parallel, those nine tracks can also partner with up to three online sportsbooks each for 27 possible skins. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission is the proposed regulatory body for sports betting.
Governor Andy Beshear
The state would impose a 9.75% tax on in-person sports betting revenue and 14.25% on online wagering. Unlike some previous efforts, Meredith’s legislation does not include online poker and daily fantasy sports in hopes of becoming more palatable to the Senate.
GeoComply data showed 5 million checks in Kentucky from 181,000 accounts registered in other states during the NFL season. Meredith said Kentucky bettors illegally wager more than $1 billion annually and that there is “a significant amount” going across state lines to legal sportsbooks. According to the Legislative Research Commission, sports betting would bring the state nearly $23 million annually in taxes.
Senate Majority Leader, Damon Thayer
While support seems to have grown in the Bluegrass State, similar opposition remains that prevented a vote in the Senate last year. There have been attempts to legalize the practice every year since 2018, but all of them have fallen short. “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,” Thayer said.
Kentucky is bordered by six states — Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia — that all allow legal mobile sports betting.