Sports betting finally legal in Kentucky after Gov. Beshear signs bill into law

It’s official: sports betting is now legal in Kentucky after Gov. Andy Beshear signed it into law on Friday morning. Earlier that day, House Bill 551 cleared the Senate chamber by a 25-12 vote – needing a minimum of 23 votes to pass – despite it facing long odds on the morning of the last day of the 2023 session.

It took less than 24 hours for Kentucky sports betting to become law following legislative approval. At the governor’s signing ceremony in the Capitol rotunda, Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Oakland, the lead sponsor of the bill, said HB 551 “might be the most bipartisan bill that was passed this session,” as reported by the Louisville Courier-Journal.

“For years I believed it was time for Kentucky to join so many other states and pass sports betting,” Beshear said during a press conference. “We talk about having a competitive business climate, but we did not have an important business that nearly every state surrounding us has. Our dollars were supporting Indiana, West Virginia, Ohio and other states.”

Under the law, the Kentucky Speedway and the state’s horse racing tracks can pay a fee to operate sports betting, both in-person and on licensed websites and phone apps. Wagers placed at the tracks will have an excise tax of 9.75%, while online bets will have a rate of 12.25%. Tax revenue from sports betting will fund state employee pensions, and a small amount of money will also be set aside for a fund to help people with gambling addictions.

Kentucky’s nine horse racing tracks may be licensed as sports betting facilities for a $500,000 upfront fee and an annual renewal cost of $50,000. Participating tracks can contract with up to three service providers for sports wagering services, which would give Kentuckians as many as 27 sportsbook options. Service providers will have to pay $50,000 for an initial license and $10,000 a year to renew. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission will regulate the market.

While the House passed a nearly identical bill in last year’s session, it eventually died in the Senate after failing to gain majority support within the socially conservative GOP caucus in that chamber. Many believed the legislation would face the same fate this time around, suggesting the bill was one Republican vote short, but momentum drove the plan to the finish line.

After Beshear’s signature, Kentucky has now become the 38th state to legalize sports betting, with the law going into effect on June 28. Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer said HB 551 might bring in an estimated $23 million in annual tax revenue and licensing fees, adding that Tennessee’s sports betting law brought in $68 million of revenue last year. However, some supporters suggest that the estimate is low.

“We are a sports-crazy state. And people want to be able to make a choice of their own free will to make a wager on a sports event — like almost all our surrounding states,” Thayer said on Friday. “I look forward to Kentuckians being able to place their wagers right here in the commonwealth instead of traveling across state lines to spend their money in other states.”