In this series, we will look at six states considered the most likely to offer regulated, legal online poker within the next year. So far, we have explored West Virginia and Connecticut, two states that have regulated online poker already — though key steps remain before we can expect an operator to go live.
We now turn to states that still need to pass igaming legislation, starting with one that has tried — and only narrowly failed — to move forward with online sports and poker legislation each year of the last three.
Kentucky: A ruby red state that, while home to iconic Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby, has proven tricky territory to expand gaming.
But attitudes in the Bluegrass State may be changing. An attempt to legalize online poker and sports betting in KY fell just short of passing this year. And despite Kentucky’s conservative gravitas, the state could be forced to expand online gambling anyway because potential tax revenue will otherwise flow over its borders to neighboring states — some of them also trend conservative but seem to be okay with expanded gaming as well.
Real money online poker in the US is currently legal and in operation in five states — Delaware, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
Kentucky could be the sixth US state with online poker, but its availability will probably need to adhere to the contours of plans for sports betting. Should that pass, the state has seven horse racetracks, which would likely be the land-based access points for online poker.
Most of Kentucky’s Neighbors Have Sports Betting
Kentucky is not a gambling-friendly state. There are very few options available for Kentuckians who want to gamble — aside from the state lottery, horse racing, and historical horse racing machines at a handful of venues.
Many Kentuckians would like to keep it that way. It’s a socially conservative state, and voters there identify more with the Republican political brand than the Democrats. Heading into the mid-term elections, the GOP held supermajorities in both houses of the Kentucky General Assembly — enjoying a 75-25 edge in the state House of Representatives and a 30-8 advantage in the state Senate. Governor Andy Beshear, a Democrat, leads the state.
Many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle support expanding gaming.
Supporters argue Kentucky is missing an opportunity, and nearly all its neighbors are taking advantage. Kentuckians are driving across state lines to gamble and giving neighboring states tax revenue that would otherwise go to their home state.
Ohio is scheduled to launch sports betting on January 1, 2023. When it does, Kentucky will be surrounded by states with legal sports betting — Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia all offer it. The one exception is Missouri, which will consider sports betting in 2023.
For three consecutive years, supportive lawmakers have tried to get legislation to legalize sports betting passed. Curiously, Kentucky online poker — not online casino gaming — has been along for the ride.
Previous Proposals for Online Poker in Kentucky
Lawmakers have tried to get online poker legalized during 2020, 2021, and 2022 legislative sessions. The bills under consideration during all three years were similar, but the 2020 and 2021 versions included a directive targeting PokerStars US.
The three bills — HB 137, HB 241, and HB 606, which were considered in 2020, 2021, and 2022, respectively — would have required online poker operators to pay the state $250,000 for a one-year license, renewable annually for $10,000. A tax rate of 6.75% would have been levied on online poker.
Although none of the bills included a limit for the number of poker platforms that could launch, it’s assumed that any gaming facilities that could have launched sports betting — the state has seven horse race tracks — would each have been allowed to run one online poker room.
All three of the bills mentioned above died in committee.
Supporters Face Headwinds in 2023
HB 606 fell just short of the votes it needed to pass in 2022. Online poker and sports betting supporters have vowed to try again in 2023.
Two peculiarities in the state constitution will make that difficult.
First, the state constitution requires that the legislature meets for 30 days during odd-numbered years rather than 60 days in even-numbered years — so supporters will have half the time they did in 2022 to convince their skeptical colleagues to back the legislation.
Second, the constitution stipulates that any legislation that would increase revenue (including a gaming expansion bill) must receive three-fifths of support in both houses of the legislature. For the House of Representatives, that means garnering 60 votes. More support will be necessary since HB 606 only passed the House on a 58-30 vote.
Horse Tracks Would Likely Launch Poker
If supporters introduce a gaming expansion bill again in 2023, and if it passes this time, there could be seven online poker rooms in Kentucky — one for each of the horse racetracks in the state also given authorization to launch mobile and online sports betting. Previous legislation listed those land-based facilities as:
- Churchill Downs, in Louisville
- Ellis Park, in Henderson
- Keeneland, in Lexington
- Kentucky Downs, in Franklin
- Oak Grove, in Oak Grove
- The Red Mile, in Lexington
- Turfway Park, in Florence
Kentucky would also need to enact separate legislation to allow shared liquidity. It would likely need to join a multi-jurisdictional gaming compact like the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement (MSIGA) to give online poker a chance to succeed. Membership in MSIGA is imperative, and Kentucky’s small population (4.5 million) makes it even more so.
Learn more about US Multi-State Online Poker in our complete guide.