Kentucky House Passes Sports Betting Legalization Bill

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Sports betting's future in Kentucky took a major step forward Friday, as the House of Representatives passed a bill to legalize the industry.

The Kentucky House voted 58-30 on Friday to pass HB 606, which would legalize in-person and online sports betting. It's now headed to the Senate for a final vote before the governor considers what could be Kentucky's last chance to legalize before 2024.

The bill gives up to seven licenses for horse tracks and casinos, taxing in-person revenue at 9.75% and online at 14.25%. It would send a bulk of an estimated $22.5 million to the state's pension fund, with a smaller amount directed toward problem gambling.

Several Republican lawmakers spoke in opposition of the bill, citing concerns over filling state coffers with profit from bets their constituents lose.

Rep. Alan Gentry (D) pushed back on that, underscoring the revenue sports betting would direct toward treating gambling addiction.

"People who enjoy wagering already do it," Gentry said. "Right now, we get no funding form this activity to provide tax dollars to help people with these addiction problems.”

Prior to the full vote, lawmakers voted unanimously on an amendment that corrects a language error in tax sourcing for online revenue.

Rep. Daniel Elliott (R), who voted against the bill, said he'd rather let the people of Kentucky decide, by legalizing through a constitutional amendment that puts sports betting to the ballot, instead of a "piecemeal" legislative process.

Most Important Issue to Kentucky

According to three Democrats, a ballot initiative would likely pass, as sports betting is the most important issue to their constituents.

"There is not a single bipartisan issue that I’ve got more emails about from district urging to support," said Rep. Tina Bojanowski (D), who added that she's often asked at social events when Kentucky will legalize.

"This is without a shadow of a doubt the issue I've gotten the most messages from constituents about in overwhelming support," said Cherlynn Stevenson (D).

Many states have gone this route, like Colorado and Louisiana. But such a pivot at this point likely delays any hope of sports betting for at least another year or even longer, as there's just nine days left in Kentucky's regular session.

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Now or 2024?

If the bill fails, Kentucky might not get legal sports betting until at least 2024, as legislative sessions are even shorter in odd-numbered years (30 days vs. 60). They also require three-fifths majority for passage.

The bill could move quickly in the Senate, where a similar sports betting bill is already pending.

Gov. Andy Beshear (D) would likely sign it, too, as he's supported previous efforts to legalize.

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