House passes bill to legalize sports wagering

Published 10:46 am Tuesday, March 14, 2023

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The Kentucky House Monday passed a bill that would legalize sports wagering in the state, after defeating amendments that would raise the age for gambling from 18 to 21 and ban the use of credit cards.

House Bill 551 is sponsored by Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Oakland. He told his colleagues, “The American Gaming Association estimates a little over $1.1 billion is wagered on illegal and unregulated marketplaces within the Commonwealth of Kentucky each year, with overseas websites or bookies.”

He pointed out that six of the seven bordering states have legalized and regulate sports betting, and 46 of Kentucky’s 120 counties border a state with sports wagering.

“You literally just have to drive across a county line or cross the river, to go take part in their programs.  In fact, sometimes you don’t even have to cross the river. I’ve heard from folks in Jefferson County who know the exact parking lot on River Road, where you can bounce off an Indiana cell tower and place a bet, without crossing the river and paying a toll.”

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Meredith estimated that his bill would generate about $23 million in revenue which would largely go to the underfunded state pension system. He said some of those dollars would pay for the Horse Racing Commission to oversee sports betting, and 2 ½% of revenue would go to a problem gambling program.

“This would take sports wagering out of the shadows, out of the darkness, and moving it into the light,” he stated.

House Bill 551 would allow Kentucky’s horse racing tracks to be licensed as sports betting facilities for a $500,000 upfront fee and an annual renewal fee of $50,000. Participating tracks could contract with up to three service providers to provide sports wagering services at the track itself, or through online sites and mobile applications. Service providers would have to pay $50,000 for an initial license, with a $10,000 annual renewal fee.

Under the bill, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission would regulate sports wagering operations.

But Rep. Josh Calloway, R-Irvington, said, “Since I have been in this legislature, I have adamantly opposed any expansion of gaming for several reasons.  When we have these discussions it’s always about revenue we will receive as a state.  Any time we do that, it is an irresponsible way to drive revenue in our state.”

Calloway also offered the two amendments which were defeated.

Rep. Chris Fugate, R-Chavies, said, “East Kentucky wants jobs to provide for their families without moving. This bill doesn’t bring any jobs to Kentucky. We’re going to get $23 million in revenue for the state, 2 ½% goes to the problem gambling fund. Our people of Kentucky are going to lose $300 million, so the state can say we got the tax money. I’m voting ‘no’ because this is not good for Kentucky.”

The bill passed 63-24 and now heads to the Senate.

“I can’t say I’m surprised that the sports betting bill has once again passed the House,” said KBC Executive Director Todd Gray. “I’m not surprised, but I am frustrated that more than 60 members of the House voted to give state sanction to an industry that will harm so many Kentucky families. Kentucky Baptists will continue to pray that wisdom prevails in the Senate, and that this predator will not be unleashed in our state.”

David Walls, executive director of the Family Foundation, echoed that concern.

“The expansion of predatory, government-sponsored gambling in HB 551 is a lose-lose for Kentuckians, especially for children. The social harms of predatory gambling are only amplified with online sports betting on highly addictive phones and tablets,” said Walls.

“Kentuckians surely did not elect conservative majorities in the General Assembly to expand predatory gambling when so many pro-family issues still need their attention.”