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Kentucky's Budget Leaves Out Sports Betting

After bettors in Kentucky got their hopes up with the election of pro-betting Gov. Andy Beshear in November, legislation became derailed by early resistance from conservative state senators and representatives coupled with the recent COVID-19 pandemic.

With Kentucky in a reported budget crisis, sports betting could have provided a new source of revenue, but lawmakers could not get on the same page by the end of the legislative session.

The final budget passed the Kentucky Senate by a 34-0 unanimous vote and the House later moved the bill to the governor’s desk by the count of 80-10.

In a normal legislative session, state lawmakers would approve a two-year budget but with the tax revenue uncertainty caused by COVID-19, they decided on a one-year fiscal plan.

Why Gov. Beshear Wanted Sports Betting for Kentucky

Gov. Beshear, an early endorser of bringing sports betting and casino gaming expansion to the state, joined forces with Republican Rep. Adam Koenig after his inauguration to push House Bill 137.

Beshear told the media on several different occasions that Kentucky is losing betting dollars to neighboring states that have legalized wagering such as Indiana and West Virginia.

Other surrounding states such as Illinois just recently took their first bet, with Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri, and Ohio all discussing betting legislation.

“I am tired of trailing other states,” Beshear said in February at a press conference. “It’s time that we get into this game and we make sure that we are keeping these dollars at home.”


The proposed HB 137 quickly came under pressure by conservatives who believed that the measure would cost them the support of evangelical voters.

In mid-February, disapproving representatives loaded the bill with 11 additional amendments that amounted to “poison pills” that ultimately killed the measure’s momentum.

Although sports are shut down around the world, leaving sports betting out of the budget keeps Kentucky on the sidelines when games begin again.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisles acknowledged that the budget may already be undone by the unknowns involved with the COVID-19, a deficit that sports betting could have helped.

“If you really think about what we’re doing, we’re taking a total shot in the dark,” Senate President Republican Robert Stivers said on Wednesday. “Our current-year revenues of $11.6 billion are going to be lucky to hit $11.4 billion—that means it’s $200 million already that this budget is short.”


Voters in Kentucky Wanted Sports Betting

Even though concern from evangelicals ultimately ended the hopes of sports betting in 2020, polling by Republicans showed that voters approved of wagering and casinos coming to Kentucky.

Republican pollster Public Opinion Strategies found that Kentucky voters wanted sports betting by a wide margin with 66% approving and 27% rejecting betting expansion.

When voters were asked if they would approve of betting funding state pensions, the margin grew to 74%-24%.

31% of voters told the pollsters that having a sports betting measure on the ballot would increase their chances of voting as opposed to just 15% of respondents saying they would be less likely to vote.

The support of voters gives bettors in Kentucky hope that the measure could be passed sometime in 2021.


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