Kentucky sports betting bill passes Senate, Governor will sign into law

Racing horses
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The race to be the first new state to legalize sports betting in 2023 is over, as the Kentucky Senate approved HB551, the sports betting bill, by a 25-12 vote Thursday evening. The decision came with just a few hours remaining before the close of the legislative session for the year. The bill now heads for Gov. Andy Beshear, who has said before he will sign it into law.

“We are a sports-crazy state. We love our sports in the Commonwealth 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 of our surrounding states,” said Senate Majority Leader Sen. Damon Thayer when introducing the bill.

Thayer also pointed to the fiscal impact of the bill. The fiscal note on the measure estimated $23 million in revenue, but Thayer pointed out that neighboring Tennessee generated $68 million in revenue last year, albeit the state did it with a 20% tax rate on the endeavor compared to the 9.75% in the Commonwealth.

The argument that Kentucky is effectively surrounded by states that already offer sports betting and are taking tax money from the state was not persuasive to Sen. Whitney Westerfield, who was the lone speaker to speak against the bill separately from casting his vote.

“I know people are going to Tennessee. Let ’em,” he said. “When you bring this here, there will be more families doing this here. This is a harm we can avoid.”

Since this is a bill that impacts the revenue of the state in an odd-numbered year, the threshold for the bill to pass was 60%, or 23 votes. Thayer and the bill’s initial sponsor Rep. Michael Meredith noted prior to the veto period that they were one vote away, which they seemingly did not obtain until the very last minute.

Two lawmakers that surprised the onlookers with their yes votes were Senate President Robert Stivers and Sen. Brandon Smith.

Smith spoke about his change of heart, attributing it to redistricting changing the makeup of his constituents.

“For those of you that have studied political science, they tell you that as a leader, you have two options. You can be a steward or a ward of your district. A steward pretty much tells you that this medicine is good for you and I’m gonna pass this stuff and they’re gonna take it and it’s gonna be good. They tell the district what they’re gonna do. And the ward tells the district what they believe and, if the district doesn’t agree with them, the ward carries out what the majority of the district asks them to. I have made a pretty hard case against this bill at home. But I will tell you, not to come up short, the voters of my new district want to be able to have this freedom.”

Once the bill goes into effect, which should be late June, the state racing commission will have six months to establish regulations. Once that is done, the nine racetracks can begin applying for the up to 27 online licenses available in the state. They can also ready to have retail sportsbooks at the tracks and the satellite sites of those tracks.