Sports betting is on the fast track in Kentucky after a bipartisan measure has moved from a committee to the House floor for consideration. House Bill 137 would allow wagering on professional and collegiate sporting events to take place at licensed horse racing tracks and the Kentucky Speedway.
After new Kentucky governor Andy Beshear noted the need for new sources of revenue in his State of the Commonwealth address on Tuesday night, the legislative committee responded by unanimously passing the bill for consideration by the House.
In addition to sports betting, the bill would also legalize daily fantasy sports and online poker. Early estimates have the revenue pegged at around $22.5 million per year that the Kentucky legislation can expect from sports betting.
One of the sponsors of the bill, Democrat Rep. Al Gentry believes that sports betting isn’t a savior for the state’s economic woes, but calls the bill a strong step forward to reducing potential deficits.
“It’s a first step to creating revenue,” Gentry said. “And we do this by retaining our discretionary spending dollars from our Kentuckians who are currently leaving our borders.”
Sports betting is legal in Indiana, West Virginia, Illinois and Tennessee. All four states share a border with Kentucky. Ohio also could become the fifth neighboring state later in the year if they pass legislation that lawmakers are currently considering.
The bill calls for legal in-person betting at the racetracks and Kentucky Speedway, but also enables online betting.
Another new provision to the bill will allow bets on collegiate sporting events including in-state schools. Last year, a sports betting bill failed after it included a prohibition on college sports wagering.
Like other states that have recently approved sports betting, the need to find revenue has become even more pressing as legislators across the country are facing considerable budget deficits.
Kentucky is looking at a shortfall of roughly $1 billion for its upcoming budget due to the rising costs of Medicaid, prisons, and state employee pensions.
Another reason that sports betting has become more popular in Kentucky is that the state recently went from an anti-wagering governor is Republican Matt Bevin to a pro-betting leader in Beshear.
One of the biggest opposition forces against the Kentucky sports betting measure is the Kentucky Family Foundation. The group believes that the bill will create problems for families around the state as bettors become addicted to wagering on games.
The group hopes to mount a legal challenge that requires lawmakers to put the measure up for a vote among the state’s constituents. Arguing that sports betting expansion needs a constitutional amendment, a process that makes passing much more difficult, the foundation believes that citizens deserve the right to make the ultimate decision on bringing gambling to their communities.
“There is no net with holes big enough to let sports wagering in that are small enough to keep expanded gambling and other forms out and that is because it is a form of expanded gambling,” Martin Cothran, spokesperson for the Kentucky Family Foundation said on Wednesday.
With the bill receiving bipartisan support and a governor that has signaled that he is ready to sign the measure into law, Kentucky could see sports betting before the beginning of the upcoming football season.
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