FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — Those in favor of legalizing sports betting in Kentucky think 2023 is the year the legislature can make it happen.
On Wednesday, the House Licensing, Occupations, and Administrative Regulations Committee unanimously voted yes on House Bill 551, the sports betting bill. The committee vote represented the bill's first sign of progress in the current legislative session.
Republican Rep. Michael Meredith, the bill’s lead sponsor, told the committee the goal of the bill is to take an industry "that exists in darkness and in the shadows" and legitimize it, legalize it, and regulate it.
He explained that the bill seeks to legalize something that's already happening in the Commonwealth. He says data shows that Kentuckians currently bet around $1 billion, annually, on sports in an "illegal, unregulated market."
"We know there's a ton of this activity already going on in the state and there's a ton of residents crossing the border to place their bets," said Meredith. "We just need to bring this home and regulate it properly."
But David Walls, executive director of The Family Foundation, doesn't believe that's a good enough reason to pass HB 551.
"Just because other states are making bad policy decisions and preying on their own citizens is not a good reason for Kentucky to follow suit," said Walls.
Walls spoke out against the bill during the committee hearing, warning that state-sanctioned sports betting would create more social problems for Kentucky's families.
“This type of predatory gambling is designed to prey on human weakness, with the government colluding with gambling interests to exploit our fellow Kentuckians,” Walls said.
House Bill 551 would allow Kentucky’s horse racing tracks to be licensed as sports betting facilities for a $500,000 upfront fee and an annual renewal fee of $50,000. Participating tracks could contract with up to three service providers to provide sports wagering services at the track itself, or through online sites and mobile applications. Service providers would have to pay $50,000 for an initial license, with a $10,000 annual renewal fee.
Under the bill, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission would regulate sports wagering operations. Revenue generated from taxing such wagering would cover those regulatory costs. The leftover revenue would flow into the state's public pension system. But Meredith believes they have the votes in the House and are close to getting them in the Senate.
The bill faces a higher procedural hurdle to overcome this year. It needs a three-fifths vote in each chamber to pass since it’s a revenue-producing bill in an odd-numbered year.
"I think we're really, really close," he said. "I think we're in a couple of votes of being where we need to be and we're going to continue to work those as we get the bill off the House floor."
Meredith believes HB 551 could be voted on in the House early next week.