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Kentucky lawmakers send sports betting bill to Gov. Beshear

Kentucky senators approved a bill to expand sports betting with just hours to go in the state legislative session.
Baishampayan Ghose | Creative Commons
Kentucky senators approved a bill to expand sports betting with just hours to go in the state legislative session.

Kentuckians will be able to legally bet on sports under a bill that cleared the legislature on the last day of the state’s annual lawmaking session Thursday.

House Bill 551 was supported by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, the state’s racetracks and sports enthusiasts. It passed the House of Representativesearlier this month and the Senate gave final approval to it with hours to go before the end-of-session deadline.

The measure will be a boon to racetracks because they will be the only entities allowed to apply for sports gambling licenses for a $500,000 fee with annual renewal costs of $50,000.

Under the bill, racetracks will be able to partner with gambling companies like DraftKings and FanDuel for online and in-person betting. People age 18 and older in Kentucky would be able to place wagers on professional and collegiate sports.

Republican Rep. Michael Meredith of Oakland, the bill’s primary sponsor, said it would generate about $23 million in tax revenue and licensing fees each year. The bill would use some of that money to set up a gambling addiction resource and contribute to the state pension fund.

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear has signaled support for the bill and tweeted Thursday evening that it would improve Kentucky’s infrastructure.

“Kentuckians will soon be able to place their bets here, and for the first time, we are going to keep those dollars to support our roads and bridges, schools and communities,” he wrote.

Beshear still needs to sign the bill for it to become law.

While most neighboring states have legalized sports wagering, similar bills failed to gain traction in the Kentucky legislature in recent years.

A 2022 survey found 65% of Kentuckians supported expanding sports betting. Proponents of the move say its benefits include regulating existing wagering and making the state competitive alongside its neighbors.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, a Republican from Georgetown and prominent supporter of the bill, said that it would give residents the opportunity to make their own choices on whether to gamble.

“We love our sports in the Commonwealth. And people want to be able to make the choice of their own free will to make a wager on a sports event,” Thayer said during a speech on the Senate floor.

But many Kentucky lawmakers are still wary of the issue. Republican Sen. Whitney Westerfield of Fruit Hill said Thursday that sports betting could ruin some families financially.

“There will be people hurt by this. There will be people who can't afford to bet who will bet anyway. And we can talk about how this is going to go help the pensions. We want to pay for our state retirees from the losses of our people?” Westerfield said.

The Family Foundation, a conservative Christian public policy organization in Kentucky, released a statement Thursday opposing the legislature’s move.

“The expansion of predatory, government-sponsored gambling in HB 551 is a lose-lose for Kentuckians, especially for children,” David Wells, the group’s executive director, wrote in a statement.