Sports wagering bill approved by Senate committee

Published 3:24 pm Monday, March 20, 2023

A House bill that would allow sports wagering in Kentucky was approved by the Senate Licensing and Occupations Committee on Wednesday, which means a Senate floor vote is the final legislative step.

“This would take sports wagering out of the shadows, out of the darkness, and moving it into the light,” said Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Oakland, the sponsor of House Bill 551. “The American Gaming Association estimates a little over $1.1 billion is wagered on illegal and unregulated marketplaces within Kentucky each year, either through overseas websites or local bookies.”

Under the measure, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission would oversee and regulate sports wagering operations.  All nine of Kentucky’s horse racing tracks could 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.

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Among those speaking against the bill was Todd Gray, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, of which Kentucky Today is a part, who said they have gone on record year after year opposing all forms of expanded gambling in Kentucky.

“We’re not against it because we want to keep folks from having fun or having what is sold to us as innocent and harmless entertainment, we oppose it because we see the dangers,” he said. “We recognize expanded gambling preys on poor people. It’s often the poorest people of our communities who are most vulnerable to the slick advertisement and the promise that Draft Kings puts out and Fan Duels puts out, about get rich quick.”

David Walls of the Family Foundation of Kentucky also expressed opposition to HB 551. “After just voting to ban gray machines because of very legitimate concerns about every gas station in this commonwealth being turned into a mini-casino, I certainly hope this honorable body will not turn around and turn every I-Phone in Kentucky into a digital casino.”

After hearing the testimony, the committee approved the bill on a 9-1 vote, with the Chairman, Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, casting the lone “no” vote. The measure now heads to the Senate floor. Since it has had no readings, final action can’t be taken until March 29, when lawmakers return from their 10-day veto recess, which starts on Friday.