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Kentucky Closes In On Sports Betting Bill

Where are things now?

A group of state lawmakers is close to finalizing a bill that would bring legal sports gambling to the Bluegrass State. The bill includes mobile and online wagering throughout Kentucky, as well as gambling at brick and mortar facilities.

With a hefty tax rate at 3 percent of the handle, and an initial licensing fee of $250,000, the bill would empower Kentucky’s racing commission to “institute a system of sports wagering” that includes professional and collegiate athletics.

State Senator Morgan McGarvey has been on the frontlines of pushing the bill forward for Kentucky’s Democrats in the superminority.

“We are definitely having a conversation with all types of entities to make sure we have a full sports betting bill complete will mobile wagering,” McGarvey told Legal Sports Resort. “When you talk about any gambling issue in Kentucky, the divide is deeper between urban and rural than Democrats or Republicans.”

What’s taking so long?

Existing bills filled by Representative John Sims and Senator Julian Carroll gained little traction after their introductions during the legislative session. Senator McGarvey says that it’s not uncommon for Kentucky to take more than one legislative session to pass major issues such as legalized sports gambling.

McGarvey claims that the state had not put much thought into the matter prior to the Supreme Court striking down PASPA in their landmark decision on May 14. It’s unknown if the previous bills will be reconsidered, since they both take different approaches to legalization.

The Path to Legalization in Kentucky

Jeffrey Standen, a professor of law at the Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University, said the state constitution does have an exemption for lottery games and could be the easiest road to legality.

“I think [the statute] is broad enough to allow the legislature to create sports betting without amending the constitution,” Standen said.

State Representative Jason Nemes said the panel feels the same way. “None of us think (sports betting) requires a constitutional amendment. In Kentucky, the lottery is part of our constitution and it’s not a game of chance so it would only require a statutory change,” Nemes said.

The Kentucky Horse Racing industry will be a key ally in getting any bill passed. It will be tough for legislators to pass any bill without the horse industry’s support.

Previous bills explored the idea of the Horse Racing Commission oversight on all matters related to sports gambling, while others prefer the idea of giving power to the lottery corporation. Despite this power struggle between Kentucky’s gambling titans, Nemes claims that any bill would include language to create an independent agency to govern sports betting.

“We plan on putting together a gaming commission which is separate from the Horse Racing Commission and the Lottery Commission,” Nemes said. “We are not invested in introducing monopolies.”