Kentucky retail sportsbooks accept first wagers from state pols

Michael Meredith and Damon Thayer

SBC Americas was on site in Lexington for the ceremonial first bet at the Caesars Sportsbook facility at The Red Mile. The lawmakers who sponsored the sports betting legislation were on hand, including the bill’s chief sponsor Rep. Michael Meredith, Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, and former lawmaker Adam Koenig, who is credited by many as the godfather of Kentucky sports betting.

While Gov. Andy Beshear was in Louisville placing his first wager at Churchill Downs, Thayer took the honors at The Red Mile. Before he placed his bet, he reflected on the years it took to get sports betting passed in the state.

“We’re a sports-crazy state and I’ve never had an issue like this where no matter where I went to the gym, to the grocery store, to restaurants to UK games, to the halls of the Capitol where more people came up to me and said, ‘When are you going to get sports betting passed?'”

Beshear and GOP jockeying to take credit for sports betting

While Beshear has put sports betting front and center in his gubernatorial campaign, Thayer also took the opportunity to make pointed remarks regarding which groups were responsible for the measure’s passing.

“They say that victory has 1,000 fathers and failure is an orphan. And certainly, the success of sports betting can be attributable to a lot of people. But I want to make one thing clear here this morning. This has been a legislatively driven initiative that has taken the courageous votes of people from all over this Commonwealth,” he stated.

Beshear issued his own comment about the day’s place in state history via a press release.

“Today is a great day to celebrate and have a little bit of fun doing so. It has taken many years to get here, but sports wagering is finally a reality in Kentucky. This is a win-win for Kentuckians, who can enjoy a quality entertainment experience and benefit from funds staying right here in our state to help us build a better Kentucky,” he said.

Kentucky’s fast path from legalization to launch

Rep. Meredith acknowledged how quickly launch came together in the state and noted that, this entire year, the law overcame long odds to come into existence.

“We were hoping to have it on the ground by Jan. 1 of next year, but we beat all odds on that as well. And it is truly a great day in beating all odds, even the higher vote threshold that we had to pass to make this happen during a very difficult legislative session,” he noted.

Thayer also pointed out that the bill lacked the votes needed heading into the last day of the legislative session and credited Senate President Robert Stivers for changing his vote and helping swing momentum in the 11th hour.

Koenig did not cast a vote to pass sports betting, but as the sponsor of the bill in the years leading up to it passing, he had a hand in today’s launch. When asked about his thoughts, relief was top of mind.

“I’m just excited it’s done,” Koenig said. “And that people in Kentucky get to do like so many other states have been able to do for several years now. I think it’s good policy and I want to thank Representative Merideth for doing a heck of a job. He’s a better sponsor than me, to be honest. And Sen. Thayer and everybody that supported it. People like to campaign on freedom. This is actual freedom, getting government out of the way and not telling people what they can and can’t do.

2.5% of betting tax revenue goes to problem gambling

This is the first piece of gambling law in the state to specifically carve out funds to go towards problem gambling treatment. Meredith suggested earlier in the year that a new piece of legislation to put the onus of treating problem gambling on all types of gambling in the state and reiterated this is still a possibility for the future.

“Rep. Matthew Koch and I had discussed that on the House side quite a bit. I was initially reluctant, and we’ve had this discussion before about putting the problem gaming in this legislation because I thought that the entire industry should pay into it as well and not just be funded by sports wagering. So I think those those conversations will be ongoing.”

Kentucky Downs planning big retail sportsbook?

Both Thayer and Meredith said the eight online applicants was roughly in line with the interest they expected in the state. Meredith said he thought there would be 10-12, which is still possible if there are late entrants to the online market.

On the retail side, the two lawmakers said they’ve heard that Kentucky Downs will not only pursue a retail license for 2024 but also has big plans when it comes to a retail sportsbook.

“We’re told they plan to build the biggest race and sportsbook in Kentucky,” Thayer said.

“It’s going to be a premier facility when it’s done,” Meredith added.