FRANKFORT, Ky. (FOX 56) — Will this be the year the Kentucky General Assembly legalizes sports betting? The issue has polled with overwhelming support, but some lawmakers remain opposed to expanding the state’s gambling options and don’t see it as an economic benefit. Just last week, Rep. Derrick Graham (D-Frankfort) filed House Bill 106 that would legalize online sports, poker and paid fantasy competitions in Kentucky. Last year the House took a bet on a similar bill, but in the Senate — no dice.
“Absolutely Kentucky is missing out,” John Cox told FOX 56. Cox is director of public affairs for the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. Since a Supreme Court ruling in 2019, more than two dozen states have legalized sports betting, leaving Missouri now the only bordering state to Kentucky without legal gaming.
“Clearly people are going right across the border downloading the apps and then making the bets and then driving right back over into Kentucky,” Cox said.
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Cox explained that numbers from tracking GeoComply show at least 41 thousand unique users in Kentucky making online bets and hopping state lines to do it.
The issue has broad support. “We need to finally pass sports betting,” Gov. Andy Beshear said in a preview to his State of the Commonwealth address.
“I think it’s a simple extension of our history and tradition of wagering on another sport — horse racing,” Sen. Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown) told FOX 56 in December.
Politicians on opposite sides of the spectrum support it strongly, so why hasn’t Kentucky cashed in?
“It’s an addictive thing and it causes harm to families, causes harm to communities, reduces disposable income for families, so I’m opposed to gambling including the sports betting bill,” Sen. Whitney Westerfield (R-Crofton) told FOX 56 in April 2022, explaining his opposition to last year’s sports betting bill, HB 606, which this one mirrors. Westerfield said he sees gambling as a “tax on the poor.” Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester) said in a press conference last week he just didn’t think sports betting was a big deal.
“I don’t think it’s a big issue in this state, it’s not going to generate a lot of money. It’s an appetizer or a dessert type of portion of your overall menu of your entertainment dollar,” Stivers said.
“Well, I would argue it would be a very popular appetizer or dessert,” Cox told FOX 56 in response to Stivers’s comments.
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Cox said in 2019, Kentucky was projected to profit $22.5 million from sports wagering and that number has likely grown with inflation.
“If you look at comparable states in terms of population wise we’re right between Louisiana and Oregon, which are both states that have passed an enacted sports betting legally, and so those two states bring in roughly about $30 million a year,” Cox said.
Cox said that should the state legalize sports betting it would help attract talent to Kentucky. He also said the state should be responsible and direct some of that revenue to help problem gaming addiction.