Sports betting Kentucky Senate welcomes bill to legalize the industry (1)

It was proposed by a committee of the Senate of Kentucky, last Wednesday, a bill that aims to legalize sports betting in the state. Despite this, supporters of the project still face their biggest obstacle as opponents prepare for a last stand.

The committee sent the proposal to the full Senate for a vote, which could result in a dramatic vote on whether to allow Kentucky residents to place legal bets on sporting events beyond the Kentucky Derby.

“The people of Kentucky want this,” said Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer. “It’s time we gave them the choice – by their own free will, God-given free will – to engage in legal sports betting.”

The bill’s chances in the Senate are uncertain as there is a major procedural hurdle to overcome. Passing the bill requires a three-fifths vote in both chambers, due to its nature to generate revenue in an odd year. Although the bill recently passed the House, the Senate is considered the toughest test for its passage.

The bill still needs to go through procedural readings in the Senate, meaning the final vote could come in the last two days of this year’s legislative session, which ends in late March. Lawmakers are initiating an extended pause starting Thursday to allow Gov. Andy Beshear to consider the bills that have been sent to him for signature or veto. The Democratic governor has been a strong advocate of legalizing sports betting in Kentucky.

According to Republican Representative Michael Meredith, the main proponent of the bill, its passage would regulate the existing activity in Kentucky. He pointed out that Kentucky residents gamble about $1 billion a year in an “illegal and unregulated” market. In addition, many of them cross the border to bet in neighboring states where sports betting is legal, according to the deputy himself.

“It creates a regulated market for sports betting that takes this activity out of the dark, out of the shadows and into the light in a regulated format,” Meredith said of her bill.

A strong opposition against sports betting

Opponents of the bill have labeled sports betting a highly addictive form of gambling and warned of potential social costs, which could harm families, if the bill becomes law. The Executive Director of The Family Foundation, David Walls, stated that this would result in “more broken families, increased addiction and divorce”.

According to Walls, passing the bill “would turn every iPhone in Kentucky into a digital casino” for sports betting. He added that the project comes at a time when high inflation is squeezing family budgets.

In response, Meredith said, “I’m not here to debate anyone’s morals or their religious convictions. But then again, we know this is already happening in the marketplace, whether it’s illegally or just outside the confines of our community. And so I think it’s smart that we regulate that as a state.”

Meredith informed the Senate committee that if sports betting were legalized in Kentucky, it would generate about $23 million in tax revenue and licensing fees annually.

Horse racing tracks could benefit from legalization

Under House Bill 551, horse racing tracks in Kentucky could be licensed as sports betting facilities upon payment of an initial fee of $500,000 and an annual renewal fee of $50,000.

Tracks that choose to participate in the program will be able to contract with up to three service providers to provide sports betting services, both at the track itself and via online websites and mobile apps. Each service provider would be required to pay an initial fee of US$50,000 to obtain the license, plus an annual renewal fee of US$10,000.

As provided in the bill, regulation of sports betting operations in Kentucky would be left to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. Revenue generated by taxing these bets would go towards covering these regulatory costs, plus a percentage of the revenue would go towards a fund dedicated to addressing problematic gambling. After that, the remaining income would go to the state’s public pension system.