Kentucky Pushing For Gambling Reform?

Kentucky State Capital Building

Kentucky has historically been against all forms of gambling. The local gambling laws bans all other types outside of the horse track. However, 2 new bills are attempting to legalize casino gambling with a nod to sports betting. If the bills pass, Kentucky would be on its way towards complete gambling overhaul.

Kentucky is no stranger to gambling. Horse racing and betting is the leading gambling form in the state (pari-mutuel betting). The Kentucky Derby is one of the Triple Crown races and one of the most historic races in the world. Outside of the track, gambling is generally frowned upon. BR 197 aims to amend the state constitution to permit casinos and BR 149 is the specific gambling legislation. The latter piece of governmental literature is where the provisions for sports gambling can be found.

Representative Dennis Keene is a fierce proponent of gambling reform in Kentucky and is the reason for these 2 bills. He sees this legislation as an expansion on the existing race track pari-mutuel betting model as well as an exploration into new sports gambling formats. His plan is for 4 new casino locations to be built. Keene believes that KY sports betting should include more than just horse races. He sees basketball, football and baseball as other viable options. The legislation specifically names amateur (NCAA) betting as not being permitted, but pro sports would be on the table.

Keene sits in the Democratic Caucus Chair in the House of Representatives, and you can imagine what his Republican constituents are saying regarding this notion. Robert Stivers, State Senate President (R) does not want casinos in Kentucky and doesn’t believe the legislation will pass. As if blatant disapproval wasn’t enough, Republican Governor Matt Bevin is also opposed to the idea of legal casinos in the state.

While casino gambling may be an uphill battle, this is not the state’s first attempt at sports wagering. Another bill was tabled earlier this year that would grant the local horse racing commission the power to regulate sports gambling. The original legislation included a 20% tax on handle, a number way too high for any realistic gambling frameworks, but it is a foot in the door of a timely process.

Kentucky is not the first state to consider legalizing sports betting. A federal law known as the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act blocks the state’s chances of hosting legal sports gambling, but that law is up for debate in an ongoing SCOTUS case with New Jersey. If the Garden State wins and PASPA is repealed, all 46 states affected by the ban would be able to introduce sports wagering legislation.

Kentucky seems to want casino gambling before sports betting. Current US gambling online options are run through licensed offshore sites. If Kentucky were to pass a law allowing casino gambling, the state could move to introduce a locally based online casino site. For now, residents must wait for appointed officials to work things out.