Kentucky sports betting bill a Senate vote away from governor’s desk

Football inches from the yard line
Image: Shutterstock

The effort to legalize sports betting in Kentucky is on a new frontier. The bill cleared the Senate Committee on Licensing and Occupation and is on to the Senate floor. It is the furthest the push to legalize sports betting has ever gotten.

Senate committee approves sports betting in 9-1 vote

Rep. Michael Meredith, the sponsor of HB551, kicked off the hearing with a rundown of the bill and answered several questions from the committee about geolocation. Various religious and family values organizations, including the Commonwealth Policy Center, testified against the bill, arguing everything from addiction problems to sports integrity issues.

The opposition largely fell on deaf ears. Committee Chairman Sen. John Schickel was the lone nay in a 9-1 vote. In her explanation of her vote, Sen. Amanda Mays Bledsoe admitted she is not a fan of gambling or the idea of legalizing sports betting purely to pad state coffers. However, she admitted that this is something that is widespread in the state already and should be available to everyone.

“From just the research on a practical level, 40% of our state already is doing this and has access to it, 60% don’t. So for me, it’s a practical issue of allowing that other 60% to have the same access and have regulation on it. I too am hesitant, but I think the sake of the conversation moving forward. It’s important to have that in the Senate,” she said.

No vote on KY sports betting before March 29

Now that the bill is through committee, it moves to the Senate floor, but it will be a couple of weeks before any potential vote happens. The last day of the regular session before the legislature breaks for the veto period is March 16. That gives Gov. Andy Beshear 10 days to review the bills the legislature has passed this session, including the gray machines bill, and potentially send legislation back.

The Kentucky State Assembly will resume for two more days of activity on March 29 and March 30. At that point, the Senate can take up the bill. According to Louisville Courier-Journal reporter Joe Sonka, Meredith said he still needs two or three votes for the bill to pass. He also noted one could be a Democrat. Speaking after the bill passed the House, Meredith said he was open to any assistance from Gov. Andy Beshear, who supports sports betting, to rally support on this side of the aisle.

What Meredith has working against him is that, because it is an odd-numbered year, any bill that creates a new revenue stream for the state needs to pass by a three-fifths margin. That means, instead of 20 votes, the bill needs 23 votes to pass. Were it an even year, Meredith would already have the support he needs.