I’m disappointed. I am for sports betting. I want to make it clear that I did everything I could to get it passed, but I can’t force people to vote 'yes’ on something that they are opposed to. Legal online poker will not be coming to Kentucky in 2022. The following year doesn’t look too promising, either.
But, to hear proponents of sports betting tell it, the political landscape should be more favorable in 2023, despite a pair of quirks in the state constitution that dictate when the Kentucky General Assembly meets and how much support a bill needs to win passage during odd-numbered years.
Supporters of HB 606, a bill that would have legalized online poker and sports betting in Kentucky, failed to make it out of committee on Thursday, the last day of the legislative session for 2022. The bill had been referred to the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Tourism, & Labor, but it never came up for a vote.
A separate bill — HB 609, which called for creating a problem gambling initiative in the state, funded by $50 million from a $300 million settlement with PokerStars — also died in committee, the Senate Committee on Appropriations and Revenue.
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Why the Kentucky Online Gambling Bills Didn’t Pass
In a candid interview with reporters from the Senate floor on Thursday, Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown) said he and other supporters of online poker and sports betting in Kentucky simply “didn’t have the votes” to get the bill across the finish line.
“It wasn’t about not having enough votes in [the GOP] caucus,” Thayer said. “It was about not having enough votes, period — Republicans and Democrats. On the last whip count, the undecideds that were worked pretty heavily by the advocates for sports betting over the last week, all swung to 'no.’
“I’m disappointed. I am for sports betting. I want to make it clear that I did everything I could to get it passed, but I can’t force people to vote 'yes’ on something that they are opposed to.”
Thayer said he thought the General Assembly’s decision last year to legalize wagering on historical horse racing (HHR) may have torpedoed the chances for HB 606 and HB 609 to win passage this year. Lawmakers approved SB 120, which defined “pari-mutuel wagering” to include previously run races, in February 2021.
“I think it probably just came too soon after the HHR vote last year. Maybe next year — we get through the elections, we get two years removed from HHR. We’re going to get some new members in here. I think we’ll have more votes for sports betting next year, I really do.”
Reasons for Optimism (and Pessimism) for Legal Kentucky iGaming in 2023
I think the advocates should be optimistic. Sports betting got further in the Kentucky General Assembly than ever. Expanding on that sense of optimism, Thayer said he was “pretty energized” at the prospect of sports betting — and poker, presumably, since it was included in the bill — becoming legal in Kentucky. He lauded Rep. Adam Koenig (R-Erlanger) for getting both bills to advance out of the State House of Representatives. “That gave it more energy down here [in the Senate] than it’s ever had before,” Thayer said.
“I think the advocates should be optimistic. Sports betting got further in the Kentucky General Assembly than ever. It’s always going to be very difficult because of the religious concerns in rural areas especially. We just have to keep trying.”
But passage will be a tough row to hoe in 2023. The state constitution stipulates that the legislature meets for just 30 days during odd-numbered years, versus 60 days in even-numbered years. That means proponents of HB 606 will have half the time they did in 2022 to convince others to back similar legislation in 2023.
The state constitution also specifies that bills that would increase revenue — such as a KY online gambling bill — must have the support of three-fifths of the lawmakers in each chamber of the legislature.
That could be a tall order, since it would mean an iGaming bill would need support from 60 members of the state House of Representatives and 23 State Senators. By comparison, HB 606 only got 58 votes when it passed the House on March 18. Thirty votes were against it.
Considering it would probably take at least a year to set up a regulatory framework for online poker and sports betting in Kentucky, it seems unlikely that either one will be legal in the Bluegrass State by the end of 2024. It’s also unclear which operators would be interested in launching in Kentucky, a state that ranks 26th in population and has about 4.5 million residents. Still, Kentucky’s population is higher than Connecticut and West Virginia — two states where online poker is legal, but also do not yet have any live operators.
This year marks the third consecutive year where a bill that would have allowed online poker and sports betting in Kentucky died in committee.
HB 137 was introduced during the 2020 legislative session, while HB 241 came up one year later. Both had similar tax rates and fee structures, but the latter would have allowed sportsbooks to partner with professional sports venues with at least 50,000 seats.