KY Senate committee advances sports wagering bill

Lawmakers will meet tomorrow, then break for a veto session. Their final two days are March 29th and 30th.
Published: Mar. 15, 2023 at 2:16 PM CDT
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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WBKO) - The Senate Licensing and Occupations Committee on Wednesday advanced a bill that would create a legal marketplace for sports wagering and establish a sports wagering fund that pays for the regulation of the industry.

House Bill 551, presented by primary sponsor Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Oakland, would also establish a fund for problem gambling, and much of the tax revenue would benefit Kentucky’s pension fund.

“It takes this activity out of the darkness, out of the shadows and into the light in a regulated format,” he said.

The measure, which passed with a 9-1 vote, would make the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission the exclusive regulator of sports wagering, and it would have exclusive jurisdiction over wagering and licensing. The nine horse racing tracks in Kentucky have an opportunity to be licensed for an upfront initial fee of $500,000 and a $50,000 renewal fee, Meredith said.

“As far as broadening that beyond the racetracks, each racetrack can contract to up to three service providers that would provide either onsite wagering technology or technology for mobile and internet applications that can contract with those tracks,” he said. “To be a service provider, you pay a $50,000 initial fee and a $10,000 annual renewal fee.”

The racing commission must establish a system within six months of the effective date of the bill.

Other provisions in HB 551 would make tampering with the outcome of the sporting event a Class D felony. It would also prohibit employees of tracks or service providers from betting with the company they work for and sports event participants from wagering on events in which they participate.

Meredith said that, according to estimates, the state should bring in about $22.9 million annually in taxes and licensing fees. He added that recent polling showed strong support for a sports wagering law, especially if the revenue benefits public pensions.

“Six of the seven states that border Kentucky already have a legal program of sports wagering,” Meredith said. “And if you look at the geography of our state, 46 counties in Kentucky border one of the states that already has a legal program, meaning the citizens in those 46 counties only have to cross a county line, which is a state border, or cross a river, and they can legally bet in the other jurisdictions that are already legal.”

David Walls, executive director of The Family Foundation, spoke against the measure, arguing that legalized sports wagering harms children and leads to gambling addiction.

Sen. Donald Douglas, R-Nicholasville, said the issue is a tough one for him and mentioned how more discussion would be a good thing.

“I do realize the seriousness of the issues. I do realize the need to get a handle on some of the regulation, but should this go to the Senate floor? I likely will be looking at some other issues surrounding this whole area here,” he said.

However, Sen. Denise Harper Angel, D-Louisville, said it’s time for Kentucky to benefit from sports wagering revenue.

“We’ve been leaving money on the table for far too long, and I really, really hope we cross the finish line with this legislation,” she said.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said six several states that surround Kentucky are already actively engaged in sports betting, including Tennessee, which brought in $68 million for its general fund last year alone.

“The public wants this. We can’t stop people from doing things that are bad for them. There are a lot of behaviors out there that if done in excess are bad for people, but my constituents want this. The people of Kentucky want this. It’s time that we give them the choice for free will, God-given free will to engage in legal sports betting,” he said.

Senate Minority Caucus Chair Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, said he agrees with others who testified that Kentucky is losing money to other states.

“We’re in day two of March Madness. How many people do you think here in Kentucky are going to place a bet on the NCAA tournament? I would say there are going to be millions that are going to be finding a bet to place on the NCAA tournament. I think we’ve just got to be realistic here,” he said.

HB 551 now heads to the full Senate.